KIM DAVIS, the clerk in Rowan County, Ky., went to jail last week, and there was no good reason for her to be there. Americans can expect more conflicts over religious conscience and same-sex marriage if we don’t find a way to coexist peacefully. Ms. Davis has become a symbol of what happens when we don’t.
Some on the left say that you must do every aspect of your job, despite your beliefs, or resign. But this has never been the practice in the United States. We have a rich history of accommodating conscientious objectors in a variety of settings, including government employees. Do we really want to say that an otherwise competent employee must quit or go to jail if there is another alternative?
Unfortunately, as we enter day five of the incarceration of Kim Davis, it appears that many Americans are quite willing to see their countrymen jailed over issues of conscience. Anderson shows that it doesn’t have to be this way, and I encourage you to read the rest of his column.
I understand that in many ways, this particular situation isn’t a model case for the cause of religious liberty. Perhaps she could have resigned and avoided all this. But why should she have to do that? Her request not to have her name on marriage licenses doesn’t seem like an unreasonable accommodation. She would have allowed her deputies to issue the licenses had her name been removed from the document. That the governor, the Kentucky legislature, and the Judge couldn’t find a way to get this done is unconscionable to me.
Still, it is a testimony to the velocity of cultural change that so many people find it totally normal and uncontroversial that Davis is in jail indefinitely. The evidence of this change is all around us. One measure of this is the discussion of Kim Davis on “Meet the Press” yesterday morning. It was pushed to the end of the program and lasted only a couple of minutes. The one conservative on the program (Hugh Hewitt) wasn’t allowed to speak on the situation while the other three panelists (Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Joy Ann Reid) expressed no qualms at all that she should be incarcerated. Here is the entire conversation.
CHUCK TODD: A bit of a dramatic week in Kentucky. We had a showdown between a clerk not wanting to issue marriage licenses. She ends up being taken away to jail. Presidential candidates all weighed in. But Doris, I was struck by something else. This is the only place in the country that we’ve had this. Meaning that I think a lot of people thought there would be more clerks that wouldn’t do this.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: I mean, that’s the most important thing to realize, we get so focused on this one person and this one county, but the Supreme Court spoke on a very controversial issue, and all of our country, and other registrars, in other counties, people have gone issuing marriage licenses. And that’s the important thing to understand, that that social movement created an acceptance. Maybe this will have a copycat thing going on after this, but at this point in time, it is accepted by the country. And that’s pretty extraordinary.
TOM BROKAW: I think acceptance of same-sex marriage is so outrunning the opposition that it’s game over, quite honestly. This was an exception down there. I was thinking earlier about what if she had been opposed, for example, to interracial marriage? That’s the law of the land. She took the oath of office, I presume. She swore to uphold the laws of the land. And that meant that if she, and she’s entitled to her opinion and her faith, and what she wants to do, then she ought not to be the county clerk if she can’t–
JOY ANN REID: If I may just say very quickly say that I think the attempts, for her herself, and some people are moving to equate her with the civil rights movement and with Dr. King and Rosa Parks is horrendous. And I think really should be spoken up against.
Bottom line: Todd and Goodwin made sure to point out that Davis is a marginal figure. Brokaw and Reid made sure to highlight a moral equivalence between Davis’s beliefs and racism. And then the conversation was over. That was it. It was as if Davis’s transgression was so self-evident that it didn’t even merit discussion.
Going forward, this is the challenge facing conscientious supporters of traditional marriage. Many of our countrymen hold our views in open contempt and do not believe that they deserve accommodation in public life. They dismiss religious liberty claims as baptized bigotry and then move on to the next subject.
And yet these issues are not going away—not by a long shot. We need to allow reasonable people to hear one another and come to rational accommodations of sincerely held religious beliefs. Whether we will be able to do that remains to be seen. In any case, I’m not giving up that we can do better. The unnecessary incarceration of Kim Davis says that we must.