County Clerk Kim Davis of Rowan County, Kentucky has appealed the contempt of court ruling that ordered her incarceration on Thursday of last week. Since June 26, the county clerk has refused to issue marriage licenses due to the Supreme Court ruling to legalize same sex marriage.
She claims that issuing the licenses would violate her religious beliefs, and she defends her actions by claiming this is a matter of First Amendment rights. However, she has also denied the court’s compromise to allow the deputies to issue the licenses for her. Davis has stated that she would issue the licenses if her name and title were not on them, but the state legislature will not meet until their next session in January to address the matter.
As an elected official, the county clerk cannot be fired, but she can be impeached or tender a resignation. However, Davis has the support of the state senate and she refuses to step down from the office. After being sued by two gay couples and two straight couples to whom she refused to issue licenses, Davis received a court order to issue the marriage licenses. Her further refusal lead to her being in contempt of court and her incarceration.
Davis has the right to disagree with the law, but she still must obey it. The law of Kentucky states that the county clerk must issue marriage licenses. If, when same sex marriage became legal, her job description no longer matched her religious beliefs, she should have resigned. Her freedom of religion is not the problem. She is allowed to follow any religion she pleases. But when her religion conflicts with her job description, she must decide to either separate the duties of the state and the duties of her religion, or resolve that she is no longer a fit candidate for the position.
In no situation is it all right to decide not to do her job with the knowledge that she cannot be fired because of her elected position. The state senate should recognize that there is no defense for an elected official refusing to do their job. Thankfully, the court exists to check their power, and Davis is finally being reprimanded.
Rowan County resumed granting marriage licenses on Friday, the day after Davis’ incarceration. Until she is removed from office, all marriage licenses will be signed under her name. This has sparked an outrage. Some people think that if Davis went to prison in order to prevent her name on same sex marriage licenses, then her name should not be on those issued without her consent.
However, with her refusal to resign, Davis is by default consenting to her name being on the same sex marriage licenses. There is a protest about whether or not these licenses are valid, but a Rowan County Attorney, Cecil Watkins, assures that they are legal.
Many people defend Davis with the claim that same sex couples should drive to the next county in order to receive their marriage licenses. This sentiment resembles that of pre-civil rights segregations of water fountains and entrances. In no situation should citizens be subject to unequal treatment in order to appease those who do not want to follow the law.
Davis is not alone in her refusal to grant marriage licenses since the legalization of gay marriages; she is joined by 11 Alabama probate judges. However, she is the first to be subject to legal repercussions. Her case offers a precedent of sorts, especially with her appeal to the Supreme Court, which was rejected without comment.
It is probable that most future rulings concerning public officials’ rights to personal beliefs will be affected by the precedent that Davis’s case presents. With the results of Davis’s case, the rest of the legal trouble surrounding same-sex marriage will most likely be in favor of equality.