Given some of the ill-informed opinions being expressed on my Facebook feed and elsewhere (including by several Republican presidential candidates), let me go on the record with absolute clarity: There is no excuse for Kim Davis – none, zero, not any – to refuse to do her job and issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
I say this as someone who a) supports gay marriage, but b) believes that business owners, such as bakers, photographers, and musicians, have the right to refuse to participate in gay weddings. Religious liberty, indeed liberty generally, should protect people from being compelled to take part in activities that violate their conscience. In other words, bigots have the right to be bigots. The only exception to this should be cases when such discrimination is so wide spread, and normal social sanctions so ineffective, as to make it impossible for those discriminated against to participate in normal society, such as the Jim Crow south).
Davis, however, is a public official. She is being paid by taxpayers, including gay taxpayers, specifically to perform certain duties. Those duties include issuing marriage licenses. She can choose to exercise her religious beliefs and resign, or she can perform her legally required duties. She cannot continue to pretend to be a county clerk – and be paid as such – and refuse to perform the duties of a county clerk. Moreover, she is not merely refusing to sign marriage licenses herself, which would be of dubious legality itself, she is preventing any of her junior clerks from doing so, making it effectively impossible for gays to obtain a marriage license in her county.
Public officials cannot choose which laws to carry out. How would her defenders feel about a Quaker clerk who refused to issue firearms licenses or a Muslim who would not issue liquor licenses? In fact, the Davis case provides a field day for hypocrisy. How often have we been lectured by conservatives about the sanctity of obeying the law. Illegal immigrants should be deported because “we are a nation of laws.” Young black men who have been killed by police officers, should just “obey the police.” (Liberals have their own brand of hypocrisy. The defense of the rule of law is now coming from defenders of President Obama’s executive overreach and Hillary Clinton’s blatant disregard for legal niceties.)
Davis defenders don’t truly believe in the rule of law, they see the law as a bludgeon for enforcing their moral beliefs. That’s not how it works in this country.