With same-sex marriage the law of the land, there is no surprise that some county clerks, backed by state officials, have balked at issuing licenses for same-sex couples. Their opposition is based on religious considerations.
In Arkansas, a county clerk of 24 years decided to retire than violate her religious beliefs. That is her prerogative. As a government official, her responsibility is to represent all the people equally. Her decision to resign is the proper one. It keeps her religious beliefs intact, as she desires, and opens up the county clerk position to someone with a willingness to uphold the equality guaranteed in the Constitution.
In adjacent Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton is trying to rally resistant clerks by offering whatever support that he can and inform them that lawyers are lining up to offer pro bono support for any clerks who face legal troubles for denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
“[T]he United States Supreme Court again ignored the text and spirit of the Constitution to manufacture a right that simply does not exist,” Paxton said in a statement. “… Importantly, the reach of the Court’s opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty.”
It is disappointing that an attorney general can get the Constitution so wrong. One’s religious liberty, as well as other First Amendment rights, and many other rights of the Constitution, have limitations while performing a government job. A person who is a government employee can’t claim exemptions from fulfilling their legal responsibility because doing so will trample the equal protections that the Constitution guarantees every American. It is no more acceptable for a county clerk to refuse to fulfill their job responsibilities equally than it is for a police officer. The solution for those who feel that they are violating personal religious beliefs is simple: follow the path of the Arkansas clerk who resigned.
Removing oneself from involvement with the government is a long-practiced action by many who hold strong religious beliefs. Conscientious objectors are a prime example, but others have chosen to exclude themselves from the government for other reasons. The Amish refuse social security because it is seen as a form of insurance that they prohibit. These believers remove themselves from the government actions that offend them. Their conscience decisions are their right, as guaranteed under the Constitution. It is not their right to become army recruiters or social security administrators and deny those jobs and programs to others because they find them offensive.
The alternative would open a mountain of exemptions that could eventually cripple the government and all our notions of fairness. If county clerks can deny equal treatment to same-sex couples, then they can do it for a range of other intrusions on their religious beliefs.
- They could deny marriage to Muslims, atheists or other non-Christians.
- It might offend their religious sensibilities against racial or ethnic purity to let people of different races marry.
- Women who are dressed too provocatively could be deemed as unsuitable for marriage.
- The same goes for women who express a desire to work outside the home or pay for the marriage license instead of the man.
- Adulterers could be denied marriage licenses.
The list is endless.
Even the argument that the objection is only about transforming the ages old notion of marriage between a man and a woman is faulty. The Old Testament allows polygamy, marriage of masters and slaves, rapists and victims, child marriage and so on. The concept of marriage has changed over the millennias. Those who think otherwise are deluding themselves.
The Supreme Court came down on the side of same-sex marriage as a contract between two people. It did not take a stance on the morality. It is simply about people engaging in a consensual contract and having the same rights that others already possess.
As a government employee, it is a person’s responsibility to uphold that law. This issue is as simple as that. For the county clerks who refuse licenses for same-sex marriages, they need to show themselves the door as soon as possible.