Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court of the United States created a right for same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states (and at this point refuses to issue any marriage licenses at all). The reason? It violates her conscience and Christian faith. She was sued and lost. A request for a stay on the decision was even sent to the U.S. Supreme Court and denied. As an elected official, she can’t be fired. But she can be impeached, fined, and even jailed for her refusal to carry out her state-mandated duties.
I must say that I am amazed Kim Davis is standing alone on this issue. Surely there are thousands of Christians employed across our nation to perform the same job as Kim Davis, and yet Kim Davis is the only person who has the courage to stand by her convictions. Perhaps others quit in protest, but I imagine that most Christians just went along with the program.
Of course, this invites a critical question: Do Christians have a moral obligation to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples? Does issuing a license make one complicit in their moral crime? I’m not sure where I fall on this, but I tend to think not. As I see it, the moral crime is in the homosex, not the legal identification of their relationship as a “marriage.” Since the marriage license is not connected to their homosex (surely the couple has been engaging in homosexual relations prior to their anticipated “marriage”), I don’t see how issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple is morally relevant.
This assumes that the marriage itself is not a moral issue. This is where Christians will disagree. My current thinking on the matter is that marriage, by nature, is a male-female institution. Same-sex relationships can never be marriages. Same-sex marriage is just a legal fiction. The law can consider two people of the same-sex to be “married,” but they do not have a real marriage. It would be similar to the law recognizing adults who self-identify as babies rather than adults. If the government calls them a “baby” or considers them a baby for legal purposes, this does nothing to change the fact that they are adults, not babies. A clerk who signed their “baby certificate” may get a good laugh from their self-deception, but there is no moral wrong involved. Similarly, while the law may call the same-sex relationship a “marriage,” it is not a marriage. It is a legal fiction. I don’t see how it is morally wrong to issue a government warrant for creating a legal fiction. The nature of the same-sex relationship does not change just because they receive a marriage license. It never becomes a marriage. While the government should not sanction same-sex relationships by creating the legal fiction of same-sex marriage, I don’t see how a clerk giving them a license for this legal fiction is complicit in any moral wrong. The only potential wrong I can see is that it would be perceived as the clerk’s endorsement of the relationship, which a Christian cannot do. But this is a weak argument. When opposite-sex couples apply for a marriage license and the clerk issues it, the couple doesn’t walk out of the office thinking, “Wow, I’m so glad that clerk approves of our marriage. Perhaps we should invite her to the wedding.” It’s understood that the clerk is just doing her job. She is not offering her approval of the marriage. If you disagree, and think that it is morally wrong for Christians to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, I would like to hear your case.
For me, the more important issue is the issue of conscience. Even if one is not morally required to refrain from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, if they cannot do so in good conscience, they should not be required to do so. I am appalled that the state can force someone to violate their conscience or lose their job. What happened to religious exemptions and conscientious objections? It is a scary thing to see the trajectory we are headed in. The rights of people of faith and conscience are being denied. Religious liberty is diminishing quickly in this country.