Saturday, September 5, 2015

Why Kim Davis Is Not A Martyr

It was probably inevitable, after the Supreme Court's historic ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage, that someone somewhere in the U.S. would decide to use the decision as a means by which to become the latest "publicity saint" for the VRWC and its media machine.  That "someone somewhere" now has a name:  Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who now sits in jail, having been found in contempt by a Republican-appointed federal judge for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Her justification for this refusal?  "God's authority."

No sooner did this story make its way into the national debate than Ms. Davis became, in the words of her attorney, "the poster child for why you need religious liberty exemption laws."  This is the bizarre notion that, in a democracy in which laws are enacted by the consent of the people and their elected representatives, anyone and everyone can nevertheless defy whichever of those laws "offends" them on the grounds that their religion forbids them from obeying it.  That is not to say that their should be no such thing as a conscientious objection to one or more aspects of the law.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, and as I say again here, I have a relative who obtained CO status with respect to military service--and I fully support his decision to do so.  But he did not escape the ambit of the law by obtaining CO status; he was required to perform alternative service, and did so.

In other words, when an individual moral or religious objection is such that it imposes some public burden, such as seeking another individual to perform military service in my relative's place, it is not unreasonable to ask that person to relieve the burdens of society in some other way.  That approach honors both the objection and the individual's status as a member of society.  And that is emphatically not the approach Ms. Davis is seeking to take.

Ms. Davis is an elected official, earning a salary of approximately $80,000.00 a year, plus other public fringe benefits as well (that's speculation but, as a former federal and state employee myself, it's reasonable).  She ran for office and sought to put herself in a position of public service, knowing full well that doing so would, from time to time, require her to serve the interests of individuals whose aims she might find objectionable to her religion.  She certainly did so being aware of the public debate over the effort to legalize same-sex marriage, and could have anticipated how the resolution of that debate might affect her job.

She nevertheless ran for office, won, and is therefore in a position to take a real stand of conscience, one that would honor her religious objection and her commitment as a public official to serve the interests of the whole public.  She could resign.  And, in doing so, she could forswear the inevitable media benefits of her new-found fame (the book deal, the Fox talk show, etc.).  She could go back home and become a full-time wife to her fourth husband, and thereby demonstrate the sincerity of her conservative religious beliefs.

Notice, however, that she is not doing any of those things.  She is hanging on to her relatively cushy public job--again, a job that requires her to serve the interests of all the people who come to her.  She will no doubt run for re-election from jail--and, perhaps, even be re-elected, unless Kentucky law forbids that because she is in jail.  And don't think those media benefits aren't right around the corner; I'd make it ten-to-one that the book deal is already in place.

If Ms. Davis wants to be a martyr, she should get that status the old-fashioned way, by earning it. Forsake the public benefits of her elected office.  Stop using that office to impose her religious beliefs on others.  Doing so is not an act of conscience, nor is it a right granted by the First Amendment; in fact, the Establishment Clause of that Amendment specifically forbids what she is trying to do.  She cannot have it both ways; no one should, in a democracy.  You cannot take an oath to serve the people, and obtain the private benefits of doing so, and then claim a special right not to serve some of the people.  It is worse than the rankest form of hypocrisy; it is an offense to the very ideal of public service itself.  Such an offense does not honor the Constitution.  And I am bound to say, by my own religious beliefs, that it does not honor God.

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