How Does Lawbreaking Kim Davis Get to Keep Her Job?
FlaglerLive | September 22, 2015
By Nancy Smith
And they call Mississippi backward. Somebody please tell me how a county clerk from Kentucky who swore an oath to execute the law of the land, then refused to do it, gets to keep her job.
Where was Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear after Rowan County Court Clerk Kim Davis, 49, a Democrat elected last year, refused to sign marriage licenses to same-sex couples?
Never mind sending Davis to the slammer for contempt of court. Why didn’t Beshear beat the judge to it and send her home instead — just remove her from office, save taxpayers the money this media circus is costing and spare himself the embarrassment down the road?
That goes for the 57 other clerks — nearly half of the commonwealth of Kentucky’s 120 county clerks — who sent a letter to the governor saying their duties as a clerk are now at odds with their beliefs.
If I were Beshear, I would send them all a letter back, remind them that there are certainly legitimate contexts and arguments to be made for religous freedom but the secular office of a county clerk isn’t one of them. The law of the land isn’t an item on an a la carte menu from which elected officials can pick and choose.
The point is, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages legal. If these clerks believed issuing marriage licenses for gay couples was going to compromise their convictions, all 57 of them plus Davis should have quit the same day the justices’ decision came down. Even now they can honorably resign their elected positions and seek employment that doesn’t clash with their religious beliefs.
Governors remove elected officials for all kinds of reasons. Certainly Florida Gov. Rick Scott has. I must be missing something, because apparently it’s not as simple as Beshear growing a little backbone.
The law of the land isn’t an item on an a la carte menu from which elected officials can pick and choose.
“There’s no boss there that can say, ‘You’re fired,'” Scott Bauries, a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, told a news team at WKYT-Lexington. “We sort of assume that the electoral process will take care of elected officials who refuse to do their job. But that’s a problem if you want to get married and you’re a same-sex couple and you have the right to get married.”
Bauries says those who want to get married would have to seek what is called a writ of mandamus — basically an injunction against the elected officials. That could lead to a court battle that could take months, maybe even years, incurring all kinds of expense for people who are only exercising their right to obtain a legal document.
Davis was just elected. Rowan County is stuck with her for three more years?
I have to admit, if I were governor — having taken an oath of office myself — I would feel honor bound to give every one of these clerk scofflaws an ultimatum: Obey the law or stand down.
There’s a lot of crazy in this story. First, along comes a pair of presidential candidates — Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz — pandering for votes. They fall all over Davis, trying to be first in line for huggy photo ops with the pigtailed celeb, and frankly it’s offensive. You know they know better. Huckabee is a former governor and Cruz clerked for the chief justice of the U.S. They understand the difference between the law and rights under the First Amendment.
In her Sept. 14 column, Kathleen Parker — a conservative — says all of this about Huckabee, Cruz and Davis, and more. “Why would any candidate align himself with the sort of ignorance that prompts someone to carry a sign comparing the U.S. Supreme Court to the Islamic State? Because,” she writes, “stupid sells, apparently.”
Davis has two fundamental choices, as I see it. The first is to issue the licenses. The second is to resign her position if she feels her deeply held religious beliefs won’t allow her to fulfill her public duties.
What worries me is, if we start basing who gets a marriage license on religious grounds, then how many couples would actually qualify? Davis herself has been married four times. In some Christians’ eyes, she wouldn’t get past the priest, let alone the clerk. What about a couple who has lived together? Or a couple of mixed race? What about the couple that includes an unwed mother? There are Christian sects that consider one or all of these people sinners, and to sanction them to marry would be against their deeply held beliefs.
But in the end, it doesn’t matter. This is about a clerk who swore an oath to uphold the law. She claims she can’t do that. A Walmart greeter positon awaits.
I hope Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear can man up and remove Davis from office. The court process moves slowly and only prolongs the circus. This shameless charade doesn’t speak well for Kentucky and shouldn’t go on a day longer.
Nancy Smith is the editor of Sunshine State News. She started her career at the Daily Mirror and The Observer in London before spending 28 years at The Stuart News/Port St. Lucie News as managing editor and associate editor. She was president of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors in the mid-1990s. Reach her by email here, or follow her on twitter at @NancyLBSmith.