Kim Davis is the county clerk in Kentucky who, following the 2015 Supreme Court Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, prohibited her office from issuing any marriage licenses because, “To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage [by which she means straight marriage], with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.”
That gave her fifteen minutes of fame as the darling of the Right. Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee welcomed her after her five-day stay in jail. She won a “Cost of Discipleship Award” at the 2015 Values Voter Summit.
Today, not so much. She ran for reelection as county clerk, but apparently her constituents had had enough of her shenanigans, and she lost last November. She’s also stuck with $220,000 in legal fees.
Kentucky’s GOP governor claims to still support her actions and yet threw her under the bus by declaring that the state shouldn’t have to pay.
Davis argued that Kentucky should pay, “because Davis acted as a state official for purposes of marriage licensing.” That’s right: Kim Davis the citizen isn’t liable for the bills because the state (in the form of Kim Davis the county clerk) caused the problem. Doing the right thing supposedly guided her actions at some point, but owning the costs she’s incurred is inconvenient right now.
In a further complication, a recent court decision allows Davis to be sued for damages as an individual, and two same-sex couples plan on doing just that.
Kim Davis’s selfish argument
Davis’s choice of God over country seems odd, because as a candidate she never admitted that she’d pick and choose the laws she’d follow. In fact, she promised to “follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”
Davis justified her reversal by arguing that the “So help me, God” tacked on to her oath of office meant that acting on her Christian beliefs was obligatory and trumped the laws she was promising to uphold.
This fails in many ways: that phrase is not part of the official oath (nor is the Bible you might put your hand on), and if she swore to God to uphold the law, she’s now breaking that oath. (A thoughtful analysis of this is by Noah Feldman.)
In addition, the Bible itself makes a clear statement about respecting the government.
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1–2; see also 1 Timothy 2:2, Titus 3:1, and 1 Peter 2:13).
An easy solution leaps to mind: if your conscience says you can no longer perform your job then quit. You could even make a bold public statement by saying that a government job that pays $80,000 per year isn’t worth compromising one’s principles. But no, she wants it both ways. She imagines that she gets to apply her personal interpretation of Christianity to her job.
Does she imagine every other government official gets to apply their individual religious interpretations to their jobs? The Bible says all sorts of crazy stuff in favor of slavery, genocide, and polygamy; could any such religious belief be applied by any government employee? Are beliefs from Islam, Satanism, and other religions also valid?
I suspect that she wanted to reserve that privilege for herself. We certainly find hypocrisy in her own situation. She wanted to pick and choose which secular laws to follow, and incredibly, she did the same with God’s laws. Jesus said, “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32). Davis cast that one aside, since she’s been married four times. And she remarried her first husband, violating Deuteronomy 24:1–4.
Davis began her job in January, 2015, when she knew that same-sex marriage might become legal within months, but she swore her oath of office anyway. She’s like the pacifist who willingly joins the infantry, knowing that killing the enemy was a possibility. With her unit deployed to a war zone, then this soldier decides that she can’t do her job.
Continue with a famous example that shows how a public servant should act here.
— seen on Fox News
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/8/15.)
Image from Robert Bejil, CC license