Sometimes our personal beliefs and the rules just don’t jibe, and we find ourselves faced with that tough decision: Do I do what I feel is right, or what the law requires? Kim Davis, the clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, found herself in exactly that situation – repeatedly.
Despite being explicitly forbidden from doing so, Davis refused multiple same-sex marriage licenses over the course of a couple of years, citing her personal beliefs. Her decision to stay true to what she considered right in defiance of the law has indeed caused her problems. Davis served a brief five days in jail back in 2015 for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses after being ordered by a federal judge to do so.
Now, after denying one gay man a marriage license multiple times, she’ll be facing him as her opponent when she runs for reelection next year.
Community Leaders Require Integrity and Fairness
After being denied his legally recognized right to marry his partner of nearly 20 years, David Ermold came up with a creative and practical way to solve what he saw as the problem with his county clerk: replace her. Kim Davis announced last month her intention to run for reelection next year, and Mr. Ermold’s response Wednesday was to run against her. The Lexington Herald Leader reports:
“I am running to restore the confidence of the people in our clerk’s office and because I believe that the leaders of our community should act with integrity and fairness, and they should put the needs of their constituents first,” said Ermold, 43, who teaches English at the University of Pikeville and directs Morehead Pride, a local gay rights organization. “My commitment to Rowan County is to restore professional leadership, fairness, and responsibility to the clerk’s office. I will build upon the successes of the past, and I will seek solutions for the challenges we may still face.”
Whether he’s the man for the job or not, Mr. Ermold does have a good point about leaders acting with integrity and fairness and putting the needs of their constituents first. While Mrs. Davis the citizen absolutely has the right to believe that gay marriage is wrong – a belief few of us conservative Christians would argue against – Kim Davis the county clerk does not. As a public servant, her personal feelings don’t matter nearly as much as the law.
Answering the Tough Question
Those chosen to serve by the people – or appointed by elected officials – who swear oaths of public service are bound to uphold the law. Any person who willingly makes that vow of service is morally beholden to the rules as they’re written at any given time far more so than the rest of us. The fact that so many “public servants” use their positions to flaunt the law with little to no fear of real consequences doesn’t make it right.
But no one wants to violate their own personal beliefs to satisfy someone else. So, how then should officials decide between sticking to their beliefs and fulfilling their sworn duty to the law? They shouldn’t. They should violate neither, no matter how tempting it may be to say “the law is wrong, and this is just the right thing to do.”
If the rules are wrong – as they very well can be – a citizen must try to change them without violating them. Once people cross that line and become criminals, they lose their credibility and end up hurting their causes more than helping. This is especially true for government officials – who tumble right off the moral high ground when their corruption is exposed.
Unfortunately, when the law demanded that Kim Davis the county clerk violate her personal belief that gay marriage is wrong – especially if there was no one else who could do it, leaving her no option to “pass the buck”– she should have taken “option #3” and resigned. After all, Kim Davis the citizen has no legal obligation to honor David Ermold’s request.
What do you think she should have done, violate the law, her beliefs, or resign? Let us know in the comments! What if the law forbade same-sex marriage and she defied the law by illegally issuing marriage licenses to gay couples? Would your answer to the first question be the same?