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.


Jhawk23 said...

Well said! I sometimes get the impression nobody has any sense of what we used to call "civics" these days and this is another example.

Alan G said...

Just for the record, I am opposed to same-sex marriage. Having said that however, here are a couple of my thoughts on the matters concerning Mrs. Davis….

I find it hard to justify the actions of Kim Davis on religious grounds. It is certainly a matter of theological interpretation but the Book of Mark in the King James Version of the New Testament contains an incident where Jesus is questioned in regard to paying or not paying taxes to Caesar and Jesus reminds them that it is Caesars image contained on a coin so they should render to Caesar the things that are Caesars.

I personally believe that the context of what is contained in this particular incident strictly from an interpretative viewpoint is that Christians are obligated to follow the governing laws, State or Federal. If they refuse to do so they are liable for the legal consequences as dictated by that government. (But we all know the worth of biblical interpretations don’t we, whether made by a studied theologian or a layman)

Even though I have read there are no laws in Kentucky allowing someone in Mrs. Davis’ position to be removed from her office, it seems to me that the Kentucky Governor should be able to issue an Executive Order relieving Mrs. Davis of her position and immediately replacing her with one of the other qualified clerks or someone deemed qualified.

Finally, during wars and military conflicts, “conscientious objectors” who can prove their religious convictions are “relieved” from having to perform military duties up to and including killing of enemy soldiers. But the rest of us who are serving in the military are subject to consequences for not killing the enemy, regardless of our religious convictions. Those who like the conscientious objectors have religious convictions against killing justify it because they are under obligations to the government although killing another human being is both immoral and considered a grievous sin by many religions.

Edward Thorpe said...

Hi Gabby,

Most reasonable people agree no one 'government' is always right, However, in this particular case, right or wrong isn't an issue. In this case, the clerk either does her job, or suffer the consequences of non-performance.

Thanks for offering readers a refreshingly honest evaluation of yet another elected government official's dereliction of duty.

Edward Thorpe

Anonymous said...

1. I disagree with Miss Kim. My granddaughter is gay, and wants to marry.
2. Miss Kim holds an elective office, so the people who voted her in can vote her out. She cannot be fired!
3. No one is above the law, not Bush, not Obama nor those cities like San Francico that harbor criminals.
4. The law is the law, we don't get to pick and choose what we will follow. Bush had to follow the Clean Water Act whether he liked it or not.
5. The Supreme Court doesn't make law, it interprets law. Other than DOMA, There is no Federal law for same-sex marriage. Like Roe versus Wade, thie recent Supreme Court decision is a case of judicial overreach and will result in years of unresolved conflict.
6. Congress makes laws. The Executive writes regulations pertaining to those laws. The Judiciary interprets the law.
7. States make laws about marriage. Decisions about marriage are not one of the enumerated powers of the U.S. Constitution and therefore not a federal decision.

8. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink!

Anonymous said...

Miss Kim is a Democrat, which shows you that Governor Huckabee is being apolitical. He is a minister after all.

PiedType said...

I'd like to add some really succinct comment about Kim Davis and how she tries to wield her personal religious beliefs over others (in lieu of the law of the land) but I'll just settle for saying if she can't/won't do her job, she should quit or somehow be replaced.

Dick Klade said...

Alan--Thanks for the interesting comments.

In my years of military service, conscientious objectors had to serve the same time as draftees (2 years), but could do it in some type of non-fighting capacity, often in a health care position. Now, with no draft, CO's can avoid service of any kind by simply not volunteering.

Many CO's during World War II volunteered to serve as smokejumpers for the U.S. Forest Service to show that is was not a lack of courage that motivated their objection to military service. By all accounts they did an excellent job filling in for men who left for active military duty.

Dick Klade said...

Dianne . . . a couple of things:

1. Kim Davis could by "fired" by successful impeachment proceedings in the Kentucky legislature.

2. The Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of laws enacted by Congress or state legislatures, and therefore does create "laws of the land" although it does not initiate laws.

3. States do have the authority to create laws regarding marriage, but they cannot create laws that violate rights specified in the Constitution. In this case, and also Roe v. Wade, rights to religious freedom and fair treatment under the law come into conflict. Judges resolve such conflicts. That's their job.

4. Huckabee may be a minister, but he apparently accepts only what he chooses from the wide array of pronouncements in the King James version of the Bible.

Marc Leavitt said...

I served in the army during Vietnam. I didn't want to, but that was the law; I obeyed it.

Anonymous said...

Dick, Good luck with the Kentucky Legislature. States create laws all the time that conflict with federal laws, as do 'sanctuary cities. Do you know which law the supreme Court ruled on in the gay marriage case? Was it DOMA? Their ruling would set a precedent, and is therefore part of the jurisprudence surrounding the law.

As for the King James Bible, I only know it because as a kid I was forced to take Bible study at school, although my dad went down to the school and protested. We were Catholic and not Calvinists.

As I said, I don't support Miss Kim's ideas, but am hearing much from those who do, and they say this is Judicial overreach. Huckabee is NOT my guy. I disagree with him most of the time. He was grandstanding for his socially conservative iOWA basw.

Like abortion, gay marriage this is a contentious issue, however, who protects the unborn child? Don't they have rights too? Lots of testimony on the Hill this week, one person a disabled woman whose mother tried to abort her at 7 months. Heartbreaking, but you won't read about it in most of the lamestream media.

PS Judges are mostly political appointees (I think some are elected), and to the extent they are found in one part of the US or the other, they reflect local sentiment. Sadly.

As for contientious objectors. the 'real' ones are fine, and many like my friend who refused to carry a sidearm in Vietnam and flew in a helicopter that picked up the wounded (he was also a Medic) are the best. I also respect those who go to prison for their beliefs like Bonhofer or Tom Hayden. (The NAZIS placed many Jehovah's Witnesses in concentration camps because they refused to fight. They too are pacifists.) I don't respect those who threw boms at innocents during Vietnam, or tried to destroy the Pentagon.

Kay said...

I guess you know already that I agree with you completely. One problem is that if you don't have consistent laws in place for all the states a couple could be married in one state but not another.

Kim Davis needs to follow what the Supreme Court has already affirmed.

NCmountainwoman said...

Our NC General Assembly (both houses Republican majority) have devised some really crazy work-arounds to enable magistrates to opt out of issuing licenses or marrying gay people by simply stating it's against their religious beliefs. If they opt out they cannot perform ANY marriages. In one county all the magistrates had religious exemptions so they had to develop a complex system of sharing and commuting with a neighboring county. This led to fewer hours in which licenses would be granted and marriages performed. Obviously adding significant inconvenience to anyone requesting marriage and adding extra expense to both counties.

Jennifer A. Jilks said...

We've been reading this up here in Canada, where our laws change 10 years ago. I'm so happy to realized that not all American believe this woman. I love your graphic!

Dick Klade said...

Mountainwoman . . . good info to have. Some, perhaps overly optimistic, folks have said they were surprised about what little opposition there has been among elected or appointed officials to the Supreme Court ruling. From what you report, there may be a lot of "workarounds" that could take years to clean up before the law of the land is enforced everywhere as it should be.

Dick Klade said...

Jennifer . . . I'm not surprised to learn Canada is ahead of us in a social justice matter. Rest assured, a whole lot of Americans do not support the Kentucky county clerk.

Anonymous said...

"If you give small minded people power they will inevitably abuse it".
I don't know who said this, but it seems to fit. I could add "Sometimes in the name of God".