September 4, 2015

The Non-Story that is Kim Davis

Some arguments are so facially silly, so intellectually vacuous, that it's hard to understand how's there's an argument in the first place. Enter Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who believes laws she says conflict with her religious views should not apply to her. A ridiculous position unworthy of serious discussion? You bet.

Yet, here we are; debating whether Kim Davis's supposedly deeply held religious beliefs vests in her the discretionary authority to decide which court orders ratified by the Supreme Court will be enforced, and which won't. What about a constitutional obligation that expressly requires her to issue marriage licenses to couples of legal age regardless of gender? No, that's for heathens heading to the lake of fire and she's not having it.

The argument is plainly baseless. If Ms. Davis feels so strongly about same-sex marriage that she cannot bring herself to issue gay couples marriage licenses even though issuing marriage licenses is part of her job, she should get a new job. What's next for the homophobic clerk? Refusing to enter real property deeds for gay couples? That's absurd, do your job or get a new job.

We are, as nobody can dispute, a nation of laws. We have rules in place that govern our conduct, and a system for resolving conflicts over what those laws mean and how to apply them. Imagine if we were to agree that we need not follow these laws if we can articulate some subjective faith-based reason. Let's go one step further and assume that the religion in question is any religion other than Christianity.

For instance, picture an ultra-orthodox Jewish bus driver who has decided that he won't operate the bus if female passengers won't move to the back of the bus. From his perspective, the sexes must be separated and it would be unthinkable to participate in a process where men and women were sitting together in the front of the bus. In accordance with his beliefs, whenever women refuse his instruction to move to the back of the bus, he pulls over and refuses to drive until they comply. If all that matters is that he believes to do otherwise would put him in conflict with his religious beliefs, one cannot force him to allow women the same rights on his bus as the men, no matter what the Equal Protection Clause might say, much less a host of state and local laws.

It's just as fair and logical as it is to allow Ms. Davis to modify the law to accommodate her claimed belief that participating in the gay marriage process would make her complicit in violating God's law as she sees it, right?

No, it's not. Not in any sense. Putting aside the ignorance and bigotry that underscore the belief at issue -- religious bigotry is still bigotry -- the notion that we must show deep respect for all sincerely held beliefs because they are religious and sincerely held is the sort of simple-minded thinking that would legitimize all sorts of awful things, such as systemic rapes and beheadings in the name of God. The point at hand is extremely simple. If your job requires you to do things you find offensive, get a new job.

Not that it matters, but I suspect that her only deeply held belief is rank homophobia, colored by the vision of GoFundMe and Joe the Plumber riches and fame. As news accounts indicate, the devout Ms. Davis, a woman who says she lives her life in accordance with God's law, was sleeping with her future third husband while married to her first husband, and then somehow convinced her to adopt the resultant children. She is now on husband number four. (See here and here)  Luckily for her, the court clerks agreed to issue her these divorces regardless of His views on the subject.

So there you have it: Kim Davis, a county clerk in Kentucky who ran for office and then took an oath to uphold the laws of the land and the Constitution of the United States, is sitting in jail because she categorically refuses to obey a lawful order of a United States District Judge that she do her job as directed, but won't simply resign, even though that would have been the principled thing to do.

Is she a martyr? Hardly. What she ought to be is insignificant and unemployed.


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