Last week on Sept 3, Kim Davis, the county clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, was jailed for contempt of court. Rather than issue state marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Davis stopped processing marriage licenses altogether. She and her office were sued by both straight and gay couples. The courts ruled against Davis, and when she refused to comply a federal judge had her taken into custody. As of this writing, she remains in jail. The Rowan County clerk’s office now grants licenses to same-sex couples. A concise and clear summary of the case and the issues involved can be found in the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s The Weekly Explainer. I want to express a few thoughts:
1. Kim Davis is right not to violate her conscience. To the best of his or her ability, a Christian has a responsibility to the Lord to obey His will as expressed in His Word. The Bible gives numerous examples of believers who find themselves in circumstances that require them to stand against the tide. The Books of Esther and Daniel were written for the express purpose of providing such examples. I admire and respect Davis’ courage and conviction.
2. There is no need to give a blanket approval to the way Davis handled this matter. She was wrong to shut down the County Clerks office. Her decision to refuse all marriage licenses is problematic. Because she is an elected official (as a Democrat), she cannot be removed from office except by impeachment. This appears to be a case where resigning in protest may have been the best course of action for her to have taken.
3. Kim Davis should not have been put in jail. In their article “Need We Jail Each Other Over Marriage Licenses“, Russ Moore and Andy Walker point out that this situation was created by the overreach of the federal government and the failure of the Kentucky state government. They note:
[T]he judicial ruling against Mrs. Davis needlessly escalated the events in Kentucky by meting out an unnecessarily harsh penalty—incarceration—with failure to consider similar past measures undertaken by those in support of same-sex marriage. As many others have noted, those who are now hailing the rule of law as a way of cudgeling Mrs. Davis are the same voices who once undermined it in the name of advancing same-sex marriage. When Attorney General Jack Conway (now the Democratic candidate for governor) refused to defend Kentucky’s marriage law, no negative recourse was handed out even though Conway got to play pick-and-choose with the laws he believed were worth defending. Furthermore, when a same-sex couple in Kentucky exercised civil disobedience at being turned down for a same-sex marriage license in 2013, they were arrested, fined one cent, and quickly set free. With the length of her incarceration unknown, is Mrs. Davis receiving equal treatment?
4. This is just the beginning. We are going to have to think carefully about how we respond to future situations. As Moore and Walker’s article notes, there are differences between the religious liberty claims of private individuals and those of government officials. Christians must pray for the wisdom, grace, and courage to stand rightly for the truth. Days like these require from us the spiritual balance to be “as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves”.
Posted also at www.theologyforthechurch.com