I’m With The Crazy Kentucky Clerk

Imagine applying for a government job in which one among the many duties listed in the job description is to lead a group once weekly in the Pledge of Allegiance, and being told that, if you are an agnostic or atheist, you still have to say, “Under God.” If you refuse to do so, you will be provided no designee to discharge the activity, and will be fired if you persist in not carrying out this duty. I don’t think the answer you would give to the atheist or agnostic is, “Don’t like it? Apply for another job.” That would be an undue burden on the atheist’s or agnostic’s conscience.

Likewise with Kentucky clerk and fundamentalist Christian, Kim Davis. We liberals should not be forcing her conscience, and she was right to do a Thoreau and accept jail as an alternative to compliance.

Gay and lesbian marriage should not be a zero-sum game where gays and lesbians secure a human right and religious traditionalists have their own human rights eroded. The free exercise of conscience is a human right.

I think her reasons for opposing gay and lesbian marriage are ludicrous, and her fear of hell if she signs the license is idiotic, but when I see her, I think of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener (of “I prefer not to” fame), and say, “You are a nice reminder not to take shit from anybody. And though I don’t think your reasons for refusal are rational, I do recognize your gumption as a human being, and the heroism inherent in asserting your inner integrity. I understand what it means to feel one’s conscience violated.”

And empowering the state to put an undo burden on conscience means not learning from history (that state power easily metastasizes): “First they came for the fundamentalist Christians, but because I wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian…”

Kim Davis is thus right to stay in jail until the Kentucky legislature is shamed into passing a law that carves out protections for conscientious objection to gay and lesbian marriage for state employees–even as it also provides for legal designees without objections to process the marriage licenses of gay and lesbian couples.

Gays and lesbians aren’t going away, and neither are religious traditionalists. A win-win path to protected rights for all is available here, but partisan perches have to be surrendered to make that happen.

The clash in Kentucky over gay marriage licenses focuses attention on conflicts between law and religious belief that have echoed in legislatures and the nation’s courts.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to I’m With The Crazy Kentucky Clerk

  1. Mikels Skele says:

    Totally disagree. Her religious freedom is not being infringed. An appropriate response by her would have been to resign in protest, as countless people whose consciences have been bruised have done through the ages. She has even refused to delegate an employee to do her work.

  2. andrewclunn says:

    I’m with you on this one. I mean the Supreme Court invents legislation, and now suddenly a law that should have required either the state legislature or a constitutional Amendment, means that this woman suddenly had to become complicit in a practice she disagrees with, and she said no. The culture wars are sadly a zero sum game. The notion of agreeing to disagree has been stripped from our culture. Now it’s just battling theocracies, some of which are secular and some of which are religious.

    • andrewclunn says:

      Oh and just to clarify, I’m totally in favor of gay marriage, just because I KNOW certain people would read that comment and assume that I must be a fundamentalist or something.

  3. AndrewMac says:

    your example for comparison is all wrong. She is not being told to say something that goes against her conscience — like the liberal/atheist in your example, who is forced to say “under God”. She is being forced to follow the law, which is THE responsibility of her position as a public official. Her conscience and/or personal objections does not allow her to pick and choose which laws to follow.

    Also, this is NOT an example of a zero sum game. Gay/lesbians couples were [once] denied a legal right and now have gained that right, but religious traditionists have not LOST any legal rights. They are still allowed to marry.

    We are a nation of laws. Are laws spell out our rights. Rights trump beliefs. Rights can not be infringed upon, and/ or denied by those who might conscientously object.

    • andrewclunn says:

      The law? The law means nothing. We’re under an illegitimate government where the constitution isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The social conservatives, who have watched abortion and gay marriage legalized, not through legislation, but through judicial activism, know this all too well. When’s the last time the US actually bothered to get a declaration of war? Why don’t people have access to the memos that authorize the President to have an American citizen assassinated overseas?

      The Law is dead, and anyone paying attention knows it.

  4. Her job has nothing to do with approving or disproving marriages. As the judge pointed out to her in her decision, her signature on the marriage licences signifies that she looked at the applicants’ IDs; nothing else. Dan Savage is right that she saw this as a way to make millions of dollars form her fellow bigots. Want to bet she has her ghost writer already under contract?

  5. Staffan says:

    It’s a rosy dream to think of gay marriage as anything but a zero-sum game. And a slippery slope. How can anyone who agreed to it deny polyamorists or close relatives to marry?

    But Davis is wrong too. When she broke the law she essentially claimed to be above the law. If you allow that sort of “conscientious objection,” you’re on an equally slippery slope, unless you can find some criteria that allows us to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable objections.

  6. Roger Salyer says:

    But isn’t she just acting on behalf of the community of that County, and by extension, the State of Kentucky? Isn’t it the conscience of that community that is in need of protection?
    Isn’t the right answer that the Governor or Attorney General of that State should act to interpose, potentially with force, against the imposition upon what is not the law of Kentucky by the U.S. District Court judge? Isn’t it that the community of Kentucky does not want to dignify the couplings of sodomites, in so-called “gay marriage”? Isn’t what is really crazy the notion that two men can get married?
    The answers to all questions is “Yes.”

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