In recent days, broadcast- and print-news have been filled with reports and opinion-pieces about Kim Davis, the clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples for reasons of conscience and religious scruple. Miss Davis did this despite the fact that the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals had rejected her argument that her religious faith should exempt her from licensing same-sex marriages. U.S. District Court Judge David Bunning subsequently ordered Miss Davis to issue the licenses, rejecting her request for a delay. When she still refused, Judge Bunning ordered her arrested and jailed for contempt of court, on Sept. 3rd.
Following legal petitions, as well as appeals by Republican presidential candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, Miss Davis was released after five days, on Judge Bunning’s condition that she not interfere with her assistants’ issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples in the Rowan County offices. Her release became a much-publicized news event in which Miss Davis tearfully thanked all who had supported her. Both Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Cruz praised her “courage” for standing on principle in this matter.
Miss Davis is not just a government employee. Like legislators or judges, she cannot be fired for “non-performance” since County Clerk is an elective office in Rowan County. She was elected as a Democrat in 2014. Miss Davis continues to maintain that licenses endorsed and issued by her assistants lack legal force, since she did not issue them.
During the turmoil of Miss Davis’s resistance of the court’s order, followed by her jailing and release, various opinions have poured forth on her actions (i.e., her non-actions, to be be more precise). Same-sex-marriage partisans naturally denounce her disobedience of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, which awarded “Constitutional protection” to such marriages. Sonorous pronouncements of “It’s the LAW” have been echoing through newsrooms and political halls, nation-wide. (Even pre-school toddlers are saying it.)
It has been truly educational to hear these righteous, ringing declarations of commitment to “The LAW” from parties who have had absolutely no past difficulties ignoring laws and court rulings with which they disagree. With the law now on their side, they are all-in on it now; before, not so much. Same-sex activists’ disregard of the 2000 Supreme Court ruling, which endorsed the Boy Scouts of America’s exclusion of homosexual members and leaders, is a prime example of the gay movement’s true attitude toward the courts. Their avid support of “law and order” rings hollow in the current case of Miss Davis.
All this is entirely predictable, of course. And just as predictable are the protests coming from the “normal culture” side of the house. The religious community – mainly including Catholics and Evangelicals – has roundly denounced the jailing of Miss Davis, as well as the Supreme Court decision which propelled the whole miserable business. Fortunately, many citizens who had snoozed through the militant gays’ long march – including their cultural coup, achieved by cleverly slipping gay rights and same-sex marriage into the “diversity tent” – are finally aroused to the danger posed to our entire culture when the Judeo-Christian fabric of our national law is corrupted by court-ordered deviant sexuality.
Most disturbing, however, are the instances, coming more and more frequently, in which conservative commentators are denouncing Miss Davis for denying same-sex couples their “rights” by failing to follow the courts’ orders. When you hold a public office, they say, you must discharge your legal duties. You must obey the Law. Religious convictions – however sincerely held – must take second place to legal rulings. All must worship at the sacred altar of The Law.
Many of us nod approvingly when we hear this. Yes, that is so, we say. We must all obey the law so our great republic can survive and prosper. Nothing can supersede our civic obligations to carry out the law. And we are all so polite, so compliant, so cooperative. It is wonderful to see. Agents of radical change always count on these attitudes dominating the nation’s vast political center. Once they get their programme legally recognized and adopted, they know all those good, law-abiding citizens will fall right in line. They depend on the fact that very few of us will want to make “a scene.”
But something valuable has been lost in all this cultivation of an obedient, compliant citizenry. Somewhere along the way we have forgotten how America came about – how the country was formed. And we seem to have lost our ability to evaluate the goodness – the justice! – of laws and rulings. This isn’t some judge’s job. It’s our job as citizens.
18th century Americans did not slide easily (and lawfully) into the great, free, prosperous nation that the world has come to admire and respect. Instead, men of honor, strength and courage saw that laws being imposed on us by a remote, unaccountable political power were unwise and unproductive. They considered those laws unjust, and they resolved to resist them and cast them onto history’s rubbish-heap. This occasioned a great war. Men suffered and died. Ruin was visited upon many communities. Ultimately, a nation emerged whose leaders were accountable and whose people were the ultimate authority. Personal freedom was protected and nurtured by all arms of government.
Does this all seem long ago and almost foreign to us now? When I was a boy it was common to hear my pals say, “It’s a free country,” by way of arguing for personal latitude in some matter. Try to remember when you last heard anyone say that in the daily commerce of our lives. (I can’t remember the last time either.)
What has been missing in all the discourse and argument about Miss Davis, the same-sex “marriage” licenses, and The Law is an understanding once common among Americans. It is the understanding that citizens have a duty not just to obey laws, but to judge their “justice.” In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail, ” Dr. Martin Luther King wrote:
“One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that ‘an unjust law is no law at all.’”
Judeo-Christian law and norms have been the foundation of America’s laws since the country was established. Natural Law – i.e., certain rights that exist independently of any government's specific granting of those rights – is a key part of that foundation. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson characterized the latter, broadly, as “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Biblical precepts of sexuality have always informed our societal ethic – framed within a common understanding of what constitutes good, productive individual behavior. Marriage between a man and a woman is integral to that understanding. It is a key part of Natural Law. It can no more be changed by legislative action or court diktat than can our Natural-Law understanding of an individual’s right to live his life and earn his living.
When a legislature or a court meddles with societal norms based on Natural Law, they manufacture a situation in which some citizens will recognize the imposition of “unjust law.” Dr. King saw the laws mistreating some of our citizens because they had dark skin as unjust, and he took steps to disobey them. Kim Davis saw a court ruling that ordered her to violate Biblical laws in the same way. She did her duty as a citizen, as she saw it.
We are not sheep. We are Americans! Not every law must be obeyed. In fact, some laws must be disobeyed. It’s time that we remembered how those colonies became the United States of America. It wasn’t by bowing down and tugging the forelock whenever some fool wearing a robe thought he should make a new law.