Clerk: Gay Marriage Violates Religious Rights

Since a Supreme Court ruling on June 26 made it legal for same-sex couples across the country to marry, a slew of opposition from the right has pushed back against it. One of those opposed to the landmark decision included Kim Davis, a Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses since the ruling was first handed down, despite instructions from a U.S. District Court judge this Wednesday that ordered her to do so. On Friday, in a court-filed response to Judge David Bunning's preliminary injunction, Davis declared that issuing gay marriage licenses would violate her religious rights and asked Bunning to hold off on his orders until the matter had been resolved in a court room.

"The issuance, authorization, and approval of a (same-sex marriage) license is the act that violates her conscience and substantially burdens her religious freedom," wrote Davis' attorney. "The record is clear that this harm is at her doorstep."

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) first brought a case against the clerk after four couples — two same-sex and two heterosexual — claimed that Davis and her employees had refused to issue marriage licenses to them. Davis' lawyers, representatives from religious advocacy group Liberty Counsel argued that, with federal law being what it was, the couples could simply go to other clerk's offices within the state to obtain the licenses, but that did little to appease the community.

"Telling people to go to another county is like saying, 'We don’t want your kind of people here,'" said David Moore, 39, in an interview with The New York Times. Both Moore and his partner had showed up at the Rowan County office this week to apply for a marriage license, unaware that they would be unable to get one, and were subsequently turned away. Both men were angered by the comments Davis' lawyers made on Friday.

"People are cruel, and this is wrong," he added.

According to Judge Bunning, Davis was required by oath to uphold her duties as a clerk — including issuing licenses to same-sex couples. In his decision on Wednesday, Bunning explained,

Davis remains free to practice her Apostolic Christian beliefs. She is even free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk.

As Judge Bunning made clear on Wednesday, Davis' qualms about homosexuality should have stopped at the door of the clerk's office. The oath she took as a public servant made that very clear. As an appendage of the government, she, and any others like her, should have understood that they were essentially functioning as the government itself — a government that has declared same-sex marriage legal and constitutional. If Davis continues to refuse to perform those functions as assigned to her by law, she might be better off leaving her position and upholding her personal beliefs in a non-governmental capacity.

Although Davis counsel has claimed that she should never have been ordered by the law to go against her religious beliefs in the first place ("Fundamentally, we disagree with this [judge's] order because the government should never be able to compel a person to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs," they told The Lexington Herald-Leader this week), they're absolutely incorrect in their assumption of her role as a county clerk — and many in the national community seem to agree.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

"Her case will go nowhere," said Columbia University's Katherine Franke, an expert on sexuality law and religious exemptions, in a comment to The Times on Friday. "She doesn’t get to pick and choose which of her duties she will perform."

Whether or not Davis wants to continue pushing back at a SCOTUS ruling that has overarching, permanent effects for a good portion of the nation's citizens is her choice. She just needs to do it on her own time.