Individualized religion

So the clerk who said she would not give out marriage licenses had her case make it all the way up to the Supreme Court, well sort of:

Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the nation in June. Two gay couples and two straight couples sued, arguing that she must fulfill her duties as an elected official despite her personal religious faith. A federal judge ordered her to issue the licenses, and an appeals court upheld that decision.

Her lawyers with the Liberty Counsel filed a last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court on Friday, asking that they grant her ‘‘asylum for her conscience.’’

Justice Elena Kagan, who oversees the 6th district, referred Davis’ request to the full court, which denied the stay without comment.

but that didn’t stop her:

U.S. District Judge David Bunning moved swiftly Tuesday after a lesbian couple asked him to find Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in contempt. Davis told several couples and a crowd of supporters and protesters that her religious beliefs prevent her from sanctioning gay marriage, and then retreated again, closing her office door and blinds to the raucous scene outside.

Her religious convictions aren’t total:

Davis testified that the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and that sex outside of marriage is a sin. Court records indicate Davis herself married when she was 18 in 1984, filed for divorce 10 years later, and then filed for divorce again, from another husband, in 2006.

Many Christians believe divorce also is a sin, and an attorney for the same-sex couples repeatedly questioned her about this in court. Asked if she would religiously object to issuing a marriage license to someone who has been divorced, she said “That’s between them and God.”

So, she gets to decide which parts of her religion are important. Hmm, ok that’s reasonable … well, until she uses that personal belief to decide which parts of her job she will do. Her counsel uses this analogy:

Davis’ lawyers compare her to other religious objectors, such as a nurse being forced to perform an abortion, a non-combatant ordered to fire on an enemy soldier, or a state official forced to participate in a convicted prisoner’s execution.


Shortly after she took office in January, she said she wrote every state lawmaker she could and pleaded to change the law, to no avail. So, on June 26th — the day the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide — Davis told her staff not to process any more licenses until further notice, no matter who asks.

So, it seems the analogy something like: a nurse takes a job knowing that she might have to perform an abortion and then complaining when they tell her she will have to perform an abortion.

Still, as Kevin Drum notes, if this is the worst we get from the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage then the controversy is mostly past.

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