Selective Morality and the Accommodation of Bigotry
Recent events in Kentucky have raised an important public policy issue. Should society accommodate invidious discrimination where said bigotry stems from a deeply and sincerely held religious belief? We speak of Kim Davis, the Kentucky Rowan County Clerk who was jailed for contempt of court after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Davis, an apostolic Christian believes that homosexuality is a sin and that same-sex marriage conflicts with God’s definition of marriage. She therefore concludes that issuing a marriage license to same-sex couples violates both her conscience and her 1st Amendment right to freedom of religion. Pursuant to a contempt of court violation, she served 5 days in a local jail for refusing to comply with the court order to serve gay couples. www.msn.comn-us/news/us/huckabee-to-join-rally-for-clerk-opposed-to-gay-marriage.
Her office is now complying with the order and Mrs. Davis has been released from jail. She has been ordered however to neither interfere with nor undermine the licensing process.
Former Arkansas Governor and Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee contends that her brief incarceration evidences the criminalization of Christianity. Other more moderate voices argue that to compel Mrs. Davis to perform a public function which contradicts her religious beliefs violations her 1st Amendment rights.
Everyone should be permitted to follow their faith or no faith at all as their heart dictates. We therefore concede the importance of religious freedom. However, one cannot harm or wrong another in the name of religion including bigotry and invidious discrimination. And while we claim no biblical or religious expertise, these disputes are never a question of God. Rather they are always a question of whose God, more specifically whose interpretation of God.
Theology tells us that there are a number of sins none of which are ranked from the least to the worst. Sin is sin, regardless the sexual preference of the sinner.
Moreover, “the love that dare not speak its name” is not the only way of contradicting what Mrs. Davis believes is God’s definition of marriage. Said definition is also violated by adultery, which occurs whenever a person divorces, is not celibate and/or marries another. A woman who does so is an adulteress. A man who follows suit is an adulterer.
We are pleased the Clerk found faith and forgiveness. We all need both. And her personal life is none of our business. However, with three divorces, four marriages, multiple affairs and children conceived out-of-wedlock she hardly speaks for God. More fundamentally, her approval of same-sex marriage is both unnecessary and beside the point.
The Clerk was elected to serve all residents of Rowan County, not just the ones of whose life style she approves. And she is not made party to a crime merely because she issues a marriage license to those who are legally permitted to obtain one. Doing so neither co-signs nor endorses same-sex marriage. It is merely an administrative function that is required of her job and oath of office.
What we have here is homophobia, rank hypocrisy and bigotry masquerading as religious freedom. The Clerk demands that society accommodate her beliefs while refusing to do so for others. She argues that same-sex couples have the option of securing a license from another county while ignoring the fact that she too has this option. If she is so troubled by doing her job she can always seek employment elsewhere.
In addition, neither heterosexuals nor born again Christians have a monopoly on forgiveness. She insists that her sins have been forgiven while denying the same possibility to same-sex couples. And she commits a new sin every second she remains married to husband number four.
That this is disparate treatment directed towards a clearly identifiable minority is beyond dispute. In her twenty-seven years in the Clerk’s office Mrs. Davis had undoubtedly issued marriage licenses to any number of people who have violated divine law. And she has done so without any apparent concern for her delicate conscious. Same sex couples are the only class of citizens of which she demands strict adherence to “God’s definition of marriage.
The Clerk is therefore no more compliant with God’s definition of marriage than those she condemns. And the very faith she uses to deny a marriage license to same-sex couples would deny her the same right by stoning her to death.
This is precisely why we cannot accommodate bigotry. Ours is a pluralistic society. The exercise of a constitutional right by one conveys no authority to deny the fundamental rights of another. My right to bear arm does not negate your right to peacefully assemble. Your right to free speech does not void my right to petition government for redress. And the right to worship as one desire to the deity of his or her choice is no bar to another marrying the person of their choice.
We can no more accommodate the Clerk’s brand of selective morality than we can tolerate a Quaker who cites a religious objection to issuing a gun permit because he believes it contradicts the Commandment that “thou shall not kill”, a Muslim who refuses to issue a driver’s license to a woman because it offends his interpretation of the Quorum or an Hindu who denies a certificate of occupancy to a steak house because it violates his deeply held religious belief in reincarnation.
This is the danger of selective morality. This is the hazards of accommodating bigotry. This is the slippery slope to which we must not descend. And lest we forget, this is the same type of religious bigotry that for centuries was used to justify slavery, discrimination, segregation and ethnic hatred.
In summary, some have compared Kim Davis to Rosa Parks. We find no such comparison. Rosa’s quest was inclusive; to include all citizens within America’s warm embrace. Kim’s mission is exclusive; to deny a particular group the same right to which she has availed herself of four times.
Kim Davis took an oath to follow the law. Let her keep to this path rather than that of religious bigotry and selective morality.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum