Elected official has duty to follow the law
Kentucky New Era
A lawsuit against Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who stopped issuing all marriage licenses after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage last month, is the first legal challenge of its kind in the country. Davis says gay marriage violates her religious beliefs, so she elected to halt licenses for all couples.
Federal District Judge David Bunning has been asked to issue an injunction against Davis. The American Civil Liberties Union represents the plaintiffs — two straight couples and two gay couples who want to obtain marriage licenses at the Rowan County clerk’s office in Morehead. The next court hearing is Monday in Covington.
Meanwhile, two state lawmakers have proposed legislation to prevent civilian or criminal liability against any county clerk who, because of religious beliefs, refuses to issue licenses to gay couples. The bill proposed by Republican Reps. David Meade, Stanford, and Stan Lee, Lexington, won’t be considered until the General Assembly convenes in January.
To put this legal question in perspective, it helps to consider other situations where government officials might declare that their religious beliefs make it impossible for them to carry out certain duties of the office.
What about a city employee who issues business licenses? Couldn’t a member of the Hindu faith invoke his or her personal religious beliefs and deny a business license for someone wanting to open a butcher’s shop? After all, many Hindus adhere to a strict vegetarian diet.
What if a devout Catholic who happens to be a circuit court clerk refuses to participate in a murder trial where the death penalty is sought? The Catholic church is firmly against capital punishment. Couldn’t the clerk object on religious grounds and decline to oversee the staff and paperwork necessary to impanel a jury?
Based on the argument Davis makes in Rowan County, a personal religious belief could be justification for government employees to decline many duties in their office. Davis was elected Rowan County’s clerk last November. She had worked in the office for 26 years as deputy clerk for her mother, who was the clerk for 37 years.
No one has the luxury of agreeing with every Supreme Court decision — but the court’s rulings represent a crucial element in our judicial system. If public officials can pick and choose which court rulings and which laws they will follow, the agencies that we depend upon for some social order might descend into a chaotic mess.
Government officials, whether they work for a federal agency, a state bureaucracy or a rural county clerk’s office, cannot overrule the U.S. Supreme Court by imposing their personal beliefs on the public they are paid to serve.
If county clerks are unable to follow the law, they must resign and allow someone else to serve.
(The Levisalazer.com management does not necessarily agree or disagree with opinions on Perspectives. Just food for thought.)