Her name is Kim Davis. Pictured above, she is better known in the media as the Kentucky County Clerk who refuses to administer same-sex marriage licenses. Actually, Davis refuses marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples and, reportedly, instructed her colleagues to follow suit. So even if you’re a traditional couple living in Rowan County, Ky. seeking a marriage license, then sorry. You’re out of luck.
The mystery behind Rowan County’s missing marriage licenses is due to Davis’ sincere Christian conviction that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience,” stated Davis. By declining traditional AND same-sex couples, Davis believed she could thwart claims of discrimination. Her plan failed and Davis unwittingly ignited messy, meaningful debate in the public square.
Liberty Counsel, an international religious freedom litigation organization, is now representing Davis as she pleads her case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, some ardent defenders of religious liberty are scratching their heads at the details of Davis’ case.
I unequivocally support Davis’ right to sustain her Christian convictions in the workplace. However, I am cautious not to conflate her case with that of Baronnell Stutzman or the Klein bakery owners. Still, Davis’ situation as a government official does raise a concern that marriage advocates noted well before the U.S. Supreme Court decreed same-sex marriage the law of the land. That is, in this new world that we live, how can government responsibly ensure its employees and officials do their jobs while also accommodating their religious convictions?
I’ll pause here. More messiness surfaced in the Kentucky Clerk saga when journalists discovered Davis married four times. Opponents jumped at the opportunity to question, mostly mock, her legitimacy as a “champion of the sanctity of marriage.”
Before you too join the judgmental bandwagon, Mollie Hemingway over at The Federalist sets the record straight. Hemingway notes that Davis is a baby Christian. She converted to Christianity about four years ago, well after her divorces and remarriages. Citing the misleading headlines, Hemingway lambasts mainstream media’s lazy journalism, writing, “That she is only a recent convert to Christianity, however, makes this slut-shaming and hypocrisy-hunting downright incoherent.”
Circle back to the conflict between religious conviction and the current legal status of marriage. Never before have we had a situation where county clerks were placed in a position to obey the law or forfeit their conscience. Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel aptly notes that with the Obergefell v. Hodges decision now comes the government’s responsibility to respect the religious convictions of its officials and employees. “Providing religious conviction accommodations is not antithetical for public employees,” said Mat Staver. “Throughout our history the courts have accommodated people’s deeply held religious beliefs.”
What’s meaningful about Davis’ situation is that the Kentucky legislature is in the best position to resolve the messiness launched by the Supreme Court decision.
I agree with Ryan T. Anderson, author of Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, that there exists is a better way. In his latest article for The Daily Signal, Anderson points out that North Carolina provides a “win-win” solution. “The state legislature earlier this year passed a law that protects magistrates who object to performing solemnizing ceremonies for same-sex marriages and clerks who object to issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” writes Anderson. “It also makes clear that no one can be denied a marriage license, but magistrates or clerks could recuse themselves from the process behind the scenes should they have sincere objections to same-sex marriage.”
In the coming days, we will see more county clerks and government officials with similar stories who, in a difficult situation, feel as Kim Davis explained, “It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”