What a pickle we find Kim Davis in. On one hand, she earnestly believes that God insists marriage is strictly for straight couples. On the other hand, it is her sworn oath to uphold the law and that includes handing out marriage licenses to gay couples. So what can be done? Was it fair to put her in jail over it? Did she do the right thing by refusing to give out any licenses? Is this event as big of a deal as people are making it out to be? I’ll start by answering the last question first.
1. How Big Of A Deal Is This?
In terms of historical matters, this is not a rare thing. Government employees such as judges, clerks, and many other public servants routinely take a stand for what they believe to right and moral.
In 2004, that San Francisco mayor, Gavin Newsom, instructed the county clerks to issue licenses for gay couples. Likewise, the federal government still have laws against recreational pot on the books and states like Colorado are straight ignoring them. Many more examples exist, but I am just illustrating that it would be unfair to paint Kim Davis as some sort of lone wolf.
However, there is a recognizable difference between Kim Davis and the examples above. Kim Davis was infringing on someone else constitutional rights; as expressed by the supreme court. Previously cases mentioned involved granting rights, not restricting them. Either way, there is a case to be made that perhaps mayor Gavin Newsom should have had similar repercussions.
2. What Were Her options?
Davis only had a few options at her disposal.
- Issue the licenses
- A clear violation of her beliefs and not likely
- Issue licenses for only straight couples
- Clears her conscience but violates discrimination laws
- Issue no licenses for anyone at all
- Kind-of, sort-of, violates discrimination laws but will be hard to prosecute legally
- Clearly violates her oath of office and her job duties
- Probably the best route for the general public but takes away $80,000 worth of income
- Petition for some sort of agency restructuring
- Might be the best choice over-all so that marriage licensing can be handled by someone else
- Would likely time and money to orchestrate and might not be approved
- Would open Pandora’s box on people refusing to do their jobs based on religious preferences
3. Did She Do The Right Thing?
Davis actually took what she (not I) perceived to be a “fair” approach. Rather than the openly discriminatory choice or the choice that means she gives up a rather healthy salary. In fact, if I knew being a clerk paid so well I might re consider engineering!
Regardless of the pay she did what she felt was right in her own heart. I actually don’t blame her for what she did. She did also request that the licenses be handed out by someone else in the office and not have her name on them. It sounds to me like she was opting for option #5 on the list above. I think this is the best option on the list, after resignation. She wasn’t trying to prevent gay couples from getting married as much as she was just trying to prevent herself from participating in the process. That seems to be a reasonable balancing of trying to perform her job and still not violate her conscience.
Unfortunately for Davis, the judge did not see this option to be worth perusing and instead instructed her to grant the licenses. This was something completely within bounds of reason too. After all, he’s just telling her to do her job. That’s not an unreasonable request.
4. Should She Have Been Put In Prison?
To be straight to the point, it seems unnecessary to put her in prison. Prison was a bit of a nuclear option. I am sure if this issue was not such a hot button issue it would have been handled with a bit for give and take. I have to believe that the judge could have reasoned with her on some level and come to a less destructive and divisive situation.
However, the courts did instruct her to do her job correctly. She disobeyed the instructions and these were the consequences for being in contempt of the court.
Even if I think it could have been handled better, she had to know that some form of repercussion was going to be in order for her actions if she refused to obey the courts. In no way should she have thought that she was going to get away with with disobeying the court.
Kim Davis is hardly the villain she is being made out to be. However, that does not give her a free pass. She made an effort to reason with the courts and powers that be to try to restructure the office but that plan was not enacted. When the judge instructed her to follow through with the requirements of the job she probably should have resigned or at least she should have expected that she would be held in contempt of court.
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