Flashback: the year is 2004, and same sex marriage is illegal in California (by a law approved by voters in 2000 and affirmed by the State Legislature—this was the “everything but marriage” approach to the SSM issue, allowing same-sex couples the same legal rights as married couples, just without the word “marriage”). San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, ordered the county clerk to illegally start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. The California Supreme Court stepped in, ordering the process stopped. Eventually the Federal Courts intervened and (a homosexual judge) ordered the process started again, under the ridiculous legal reasoning that since that county clerk had allowed licenses to begin with, there was no rational reason to stop the process.
Present Day: Unlike California, Rowan County, Kentucky elects their county clerks. Before running for clerk herself, Kim Davis (a democrat) had worked in the clerk’s office for twenty-six years. In fact, her mother was clerk before her, and she had been the clerk for 40 years.
But forty years ago the implementation of gay-marriage was not an issue. In fact, even recently he issue was not even likely in Kentucky where there were all kinds of laws against recognizing SSM. There were prohibitions passed by the legislature, by ballot, and finally even a state constitutional amendment. Actually, Kentucky is one of the few states whose laws actually survived Federal Court Challenges, eventually upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals two days after Davis was elected county clerk.
Eight months later, the US Supreme Court ruled that every state needed to recognize same sex marriage, and that they needed to do so immediately. Some governors paused, saying they needed more time before deciding if the decision mandated their compliance. Eventually even those governors just punted on the decision, and are allowing each county clerk to figure out what to do. Their lack of leadership has made this an issue to be settled by every county clerk.
Such is the case in Kentucky. There, four different counties refuse SSM licenses (there are several other counties in other states that also are refusing to follow the Supreme Court’s opinion on marriage). But what makes Rowan County different is the rational used. Other counties have refused to issue SSM licenses, but Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses. She has said that her reading of the Supreme Court opinion bans discrimination based on sexual preference, and since she does not want her name on a SSM license, she has simply stopped the issuing of marriage licenses all together.
Let me explain why I think Davis is in the right to refuse: As a Christian, she believes SSM to be sinful, and she does not want to support something that is sinful. And in this case, it is not tacit support but she is being asked to literally sign off on the license. She, as the clerk, must sign the certificate saying, “Yep, this is a legit wedding, and I approve.”
That doesn’t mean that a county clerk’s signature is an endorsement of every wedding. She doesn’t ask about their compatibility, or premarital counseling. But it does mean that she is vouching that the marriage is not incestuous, bigamous, or polygamous (because those things are immoral). Basically that she is affixing her name, saying this couple meets the legal requirements for marriage, and she is putting her name on the license.
This is exactly what she will not do. She does not want to be a Romans 1:32 kind of person (or a Psalm 49:11-13 kind of person, or a Lamentations 3:36 kind of person, etc.)
And here is a really important point. In fact, I’ll bold it so you realize this is the main thing I’m trying to say: you might not think it should go against her conscience to sign a SSM license. But you should not tell another Christian to go against their conscience, especially when going against it would mean vouching for something that is obviously immoral (cf. 1 Cor 8, 10).
Imagine that Davis comes to you and asks for your more seasoned Christian advice–after all, she has only been a Christian for four years. What do you tell her? Do you tell to stop hiding behind God, and instead make an argument from Federalism (Federal Courts should not invalidate state constitutions, or something like that)? Do you explain to her why it really shouldn’t be against her conscience to approve a SSM, and explain to her the nuances of the Kentucky clerk system (keep in mind the combined nearly 60 years her family has worked in that office)?
Well, whatever you do, for goodness sakes’ don’t tell her, as your sister in the Lord, to just get over her conscience and sign off on SSM all ready.
If she came to me and asked me what she should do, I would answer her in song:
Rise up, O County Clerks!
Have done with lesser things!
Give heart and mind and soul
to serve the king of kings!
Rise up O County Clerks!
The Kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of clerkhood
And end the night of wrong.
Rise up O County Clerks
Government for you doth wait.
Her strength unequal to the task
Rise up and make her great!
What would happen if our leaders, judges, or governors had the courage of this clerk’s conviction? But they don’t. They are (mostly) silent. They say things like, “I am opposed to SSM, and I would never sign off on one myself of course, but tsk, tsk, this woman needs to just do her job.”
In the short-term this will end in one of a few ways. Either A). Davis relents and changes her mind, B). she gets thrown in jail, or C.) the state removes her from office. I submit to you that all three would be a step back for biblical ethics.
In the long-term, this will end either with A). Christians caving on SSM, B). deciding that government jobs are for those without consciences, or (hopefully) C.) a renewed sense of resolve that the government cannot compel us to act against our consciences.
Christians should be supportive of other believers in complex situations trying to do what is morally right in complex times. And it deeply bothers me how many people who just a few months ago were so dogmatic that “the Supreme Court can’t tell me what marriage is!” are now telling Davis to get over herself. We don’t have to choose to be on Davis’ side or on the SSM side. But we do need to be on the side of righteousness, and opposed to sin. In this situation, it should be obvious where the lines are drawn.