County Clerk Tests The Limits of Religious Freedom by Refusing to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Regardless of what any man puts on a piece of paper, the law of nature is not going to change.” – County Clerk Kim Davis

The government will never compel someone to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. That’s what we’ve been told by every single liberal since the battle for same-sex marriage began. Well, look how that’s turned out. We have Christian bakers run out of business, Christian florists antagonized, and a Mennonite couple whose wedding chapel has been forced out of business.

Those were private, participatory business, however. The case of Kim Davis is something new. Kim Davis is a County Clerk with the state of Kentucky, and a portion of her job is the issuing of marriage licenses. Ever since the SCOTUS ruling in June, granting marriage rights to same-sex couples, Davis has stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether. In particular, she’s cited her Christian faith as a rationale for her refusal to issue licenses to gay couples.

She fought in the courts, but has so far been rebuffed. According to the New York Times:

“[Judge] Bunning ruled against her, as did the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and she appealed to the Supreme Court. On Monday, a stay granted by Judge Bunning expired, and the Supreme Court rejected without comment Ms. Davis’s emergency application for a new stay pending the outcome of her appeal. That left her no legal grounds to refuse to grant licenses to same-sex couples.”

As an elected official, Davis is in a tough position. She is an extension of the government of her state, and as such, seems bound to perform the duties of her office without exception. However, when are her First Amendment rights violated as an individual, and do those rights lose relevance given her position as a state official? I’m not a constitutional attorney, so I cannot say with authority what her options are, however, I would make an educated guess that the First Amendment trumps any and all secondary regulations.

Given that, I don’t believe a judge can compel Davis to do what she will not do as a matter of principle. That being said, it looks like that’s what’s being done.

Decatur County Clerk Gwen Pope resigned in July after she decided it would be a violation of her conscience to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Kim Davis is acting as a different side of the same coin, refusing to vacate her post. She believes her rights as an individual trump her duty as a Clerk.

Gwen Pope, as well as her deputies, were inspirational figures for stepping down from their long-held positions when they could no longer perform their jobs in good conscience, as were Arkansas Clerk Dana Guffey, and Mississippi Clerk Linda Barnette, but maybe it’s time to test the limits of this idea. Maybe Kim Davis is the necessary agent to test the limits of our rights under a government that has declared a war on faith.

We were repeatedly told that religious freedom wouldn’t be harmed by gay marriage. We were repeatedly told that the right of same-sex couples to get married wouldn’t have an impact on our faith—but that’s clearly not the case in these instances. We’ve watched as private businesses have gone under or been besieged by those who seem to delight in watching the world burn around them, maybe it’s time for someone to dig in, and stretch the boundaries.

If I were Kim Davis, I likely would have resigned by now, but as she seems intent on keeping her position—as well as her conscience—intact, this may be a fight for the ages. She may face fines, and jail time—she may even face impeachment. But in the end, she’ll know that she didn’t violate her conscience, and the faith to which her conscience adheres. Additionally, this fight may set new parameters in the war over our First Amendment rights as individuals in a country that continues to challenge us on multiple levels.

I don’t know that I’d have the courage to do what Kim Davis is doing. I also don’t know what her rights are in terms of her position as County Clerk, and therefore as an extension of the state government. But I do know this: religious liberty is under assault in the United States, and if we are to see the true face of our federal government, we need to test our leaders. Until we stretch the boundaries, we will not know just how severely and at what pace our rights are being eroded.

Go Kim, go.