Plain talking and good sense from today's Sarasota Herald-Tribune: "Religious beliefs can't determine civil duties".
Editorial: Kentucky clerk must obey law
Published: Friday, September 4, 2015 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 3, 2015 at 7:18 p.m.
After a federal judge ordered a Kentucky county clerk jailed Thursday for failing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, Rand Paul, a Republican presidential candidate and senator from Kentucky, said it was “absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberties.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, the Canadian-born senator from Texas, and other candidates took the same tact — accusing the judge of exercising “tyranny.”
Paul and the others putting forth these arguments have it wrong: The clerk, Kim Davis, was jailed not for her religious beliefs, but for failing to follow Kentucky law and defying a court order.
The distinction is vital.
In this case, Davis is the tyrant. She is the government official unrestrained by law or the Constitution. Davis is the one asserting that she, an elected official, can unilaterally refuse to abide by the law.
What’s more, Davis had options to being jailed.
She could have taken a principled stance and resigned her position as clerk, citing the conflict between her religious view of the definition of marriage and the execution of her civil duties.
She could have allowed her deputy clerks to issue the licenses. The presiding judge offered on Thursday to free Davis if she would agree to allow one of her six deputies to issue licenses to qualified gay couples. Five of those deputies agreed to do so; the only one who refused was Davis’ son. (Apparently there are no anti-nepotism laws that apply to county clerks in Kentucky.)
But Davis refused the judge’s compromise.
That offer from the judge underscores an important point: The jailing of Davis was not the result of an impulsive decision by a temperamental activist jurist. Thanks to the Constitution, Davis has been afforded due process and more.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that state bans on gay marriage were unconstitutional, Kentucky Gov. Steven L. Beshear told county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples.
Davis, the elected clerk of Rowan County, refused. She sued in federal court, contending that she should be excused from implementing the Kentucky statute requiring county clerks to issue marriage licenses to all eligible couples — including gays.
District Judge David Bunning, who was appointed by former President George W. Bush, ruled against Davis. So did the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Bunning granted a stay, putting his order in temporary abeyance, but it expired. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling. Judge Bunning then gave Davis at least two chances to avoid incarceration for contempt of court.
We understand that the nation’s laws, court rulings and public opinion on gay marriage have changed relatively quickly. We recognize that many Americans, like Davis, oppose the civil approval of gay marriage on religious grounds.
But Davis is a civil servant. She took an oath to uphold the law and the Constitution.
During the Civil Rights movement, legions of Americans, most of them black, were jailed and mistreated for refusing to follow Jim Crow laws. They paid a high price for their civil disobedience.
But there’s an important difference between those protests and Davis’ actions.
Unlike the laws that discriminated against black Americans, the law Davis refuses to accept doesn’t deny civil rights or equal protection under the Constitution; the gay-marriage law expands those rights.
Davis’ First Amendment right to free speech remains intact. The clerk is free to exercise her religious beliefs, but she may not establish religious-based tests to determine who receives marriage licenses.
The law and constitutional principles at stake are clear, and Davis has been held accountable for violating them.