The Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage ran into its first roadblock shortly after it was handed down. Kentucky State Clerk Kim Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to couples because of her “religious concerns,” purposefully excluding both heterosexual and same-sex couples to avoid being accused of discrimination. However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky still filed a lawsuit against her on behalf of those who were denied licenses, including two heterosexual couples. The U.S. District Court of Eastern Kentucky ordered Davis to issue licenses in compliance with the law, but Davis refused, citing she was acting “under God’s authority.” She was consequently jailed for five days. While she was in jail, her deputy clerks issued licenses in accordance with the court order. After her release, Davis accepted the option to return to work under the court order that she perform the duties of her job and follow the law; however, she did not issue any licenses herself and refused to put her name on any of the licenses issued by her deputy clerks, inciting controversy over whether the licenses were actually legitimate. By not issuing the licenses and denying the legal rights of the LGBTQ community, Davis inexcusably compromised the right to marry now guaranteed to all U.S. citizens.
Although Davis has the right to her religious beliefs, she inappropriately and illegally imposed those beliefs on others in defiance of the law. Civil rights take precedence over religious rights; the law is the ultimate standard of behavior that a citizen must follow. Davis is a criminal in the most technical sense of the word: She broke the law by violating the rights of same-sex couples. Therefore, her claim for “religious freedom” is invalid — once a religious claim infringes upon civil liberties, religious freedom loses its primacy. Davis has every right to her opinion on gay marriage — that is, she has every right to voice her opinion on it. But, what she does not have is the right to deny marriage because of sexual orientation based on her religious beliefs. Her religion has no relevance in this situation. Davis is an elected official, bound by duty and law to carry out the responsibilities of her position. Her act is not one of civil disobedience but of civil misconduct. In fact, in this situation, religious concerns have no legitimacy or function in a work setting, especially in a government office, and compromised the rights of the individuals applying for marriage licenses. Her ignorance in understanding her religious rights is clear.
Aside from the argument of religious freedom versus civil rights, the Davis case can be further distilled to one simple principle: it is the duty of employees to do their jobs regardless of their personal sentiments. If someone does not like the duties of his or her occupation — like issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples — then he or she does not belong in said occupation. Davis ran for an office, the job description for which included issuing marriage licenses. When the law changed to include same-sex couples in legal marriage, Davis should have resigned her office if she felt her beliefs prohibited her compliance with the law. As the district court ruled in the Davis case, it was her responsibility to do her job.
We have reached an exciting time with regard to same-sex marriage and gay rights. Yet as the LGBTQ movement continues to progress, the voices of the opposition have gotten even louder. More disappointing cases like Davis’ will inevitably arise. Davis’ denial of marriage licenses is a new form of hate crime that we as citizens must be prepared for. These crimes are inexcusable and cannot be tolerated, as they counteract the steps taken in the courts to legalize gay marriage. As we step into this new era, we have a responsibility to our fellow citizens: We must ensure that discrimination against the LGBTQ community does not become overshadowed by victories like the right to same-sex marriage. We must remain vigilant against discrimination. We must uphold the new, rightful laws.