Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A Government of Laws, Not Clerks

When Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, was released from jail a few days ago, hundreds showed up to greet her with cheers. Davis had refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a Supreme Court decision that such unions are legal. Supreme Court decisions are the law of the land in the U.S.

Davis claims "God's authority" not only allowed but required her to deny the marriage applications. She deserves a round of boos, not cheers, for that stance. Davis is entitled to her religious beliefs. What she is not entitled to do is choose what authority governs her job.

It is quite clear that the job of county clerks is to follow the laws of their state government and the federal government. Those laws require them to issue marriage licenses to qualified individuals, and the licenses must be provided immediately upon application or after only a brief waiting period.

State laws vary somewhat, but most require the clerk to consider only that applicants meet an age requirement (usually 18), are not attempting to marry a close relative, have the mental capacity to understand their actions, and are not already married. A few states require blood tests. In no state are clerks authorized to interpret laws or follow only those they happen to agree with.

Davis is free to select any authority she wants to guide her personal beliefs. However, only properly constituted authorities are empowered to define what she must do in her public service job. That's how government works in this country, and if Davis wants to continue as a public official she needs to follow the rules.