The current situation of Kim Davis, the County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, who has been jailed for not signing marriage licenses (two other county clerks in Kentucky are also not issuing marriage licenses, though they apparently have not received the attention of the courts or the media) in the wake of the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges, highlights the difficulties of a person of religious conviction taking a role in the public life of these United States of America, so entrenched have we become in secular attitudes.
The more I consider Father Dwight Longenecker's suggestion that she should, following the example of Saint Thomas More, resign her post because she cannot in conscience fulfill the duties required of her, seems to me correct. He is right, after all, when he notes:
A resignation is not a compromise and it is not condoning something the religious person cannot condone.Neither is a resignation an escape. It is a clear public statement which requires considerable sacrifice.It is “rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”.
Still, I cannot help but doubt this suggestion, even as I agree with it. It should be remembered that the king still claimed the head of resigned Chancellor.
A number of arguments have been raised as to why Davis should either be removed from office or jailed, none of which seem sufficient, as R.R. Reno succinctly and calmly pointed out yesterday at First Things:
Some might say that her refusal to sign marriage licenses disqualifies her from holding her position as county clerk. She should resign or be removed. People are certainly entitled to that opinion. But Davis does not think she must resign. The county clerks in Kentucky are elected, so she can’t be fired. She could be impeached, but that’s for the legislators of the State of Kentucky to decide. And the citizens of Rowan County can vote against her in the next election. Conscience, properly exercised in civil disobedience that otherwise respects the law, isn’t always easy to dislodge.I can imagine some harrumphing about the notion that Davis respects the law. After all, isn’t she refusing to act in accord with it?! I find this worry rather rich when expressed by progressives. For decades, elite colleges and universities run by progressives have made arrangements with local police that allow students to use drugs and drink while underage, free from the worry of arrest. These sorts of special arrangements, which are widespread in elite institutions, are not criticized for the obvious ways in which they undermine the rule of law.Under the circumstances, Kim Davis poses little threat to the rule of law. Her actions have done nothing to prevent gay couples from getting marriage licenses throughout Kentucky. The couples that present themselves for her signature can easily go to the next county, as I’m sure heterosexual couples in Rowan County have done over the last two months.
Davis has herself has put forward several suggestions as to how marriage licenses might be issued in Kentucky - including removing the name of the county clerk from the license - while also accommodating religious beliefs. As Terry Mattingly of Get Religion observed - and helpfully documented and explained - yesterday, state law in Kentucky does not presently allow such accommodations, but such a change to the state's laws would be, as House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg) said, "an easy fix."
Why, then, has this easy fix not be done to respect both Davis' legal right to the free exercise of religion and the legal right of homosexual couples to what the law deems as marriage not yet been done? It should not be difficult to accommodate both rights. The reason why this has not been done is simple: Governor Steve Beshear (D) refuses to call a special session of the state legislature to resolve the situation.
The current argument, then, in Rowan County, Kentucky - despite the continued and widely accepted framing of the media - is not so much about a county clerk who refuses to do her job but about an executive who refuses to allow a religious accommodation for an government functionary. And this is why the jailing of Kim Davis should be a concern for all people of good will.