Lawyers for a county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples appealed a federal judge’s order that she do so, asking that the clerk not have to comply meanwhile.
Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis so far has not obeyed the order of U.S. District Judge David Bunning that she resume issuing all marriage licenses at the courthouse, including those for same-sex couples.
“Judge Bunning’s decision equated Kim’s free exercise of religion to going to church,” Mat Staver, one of her lawyers, said in a prepared statement. “This is absurd. Christianity is not a robe you take off when you leave a sanctuary.”
Davis, who appealed Wednesday night to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth District, has cited her constitutionally protected religious beliefs that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
“The First Amendment guarantees Kim and every American the free exercise of religion, even when they are working for the government,” said Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, who filed the appeal and request for a stay of Bunning’s order.
For more on religious liberty and same-sex marriage, see Ryan T. Anderson’s new book, “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom.”
Bunning last month heard a suit filed against Davis in Covington, Ky., by four couples, two of them straight and two gay. In a 28-page opinion issued Wednesday, the judge said the clerk must do her duty as a public official.
“The state is not asking her to condone same-sex unions on moral or religious grounds, nor is it restricting her from engaging in a variety of religious activities,” Bunning wrote, adding:
Davis remains free to practice her apostolic Christian beliefs. She may continue to attend church twice a week, participate in Bible study and minister to female inmates at the Rowan County Jail. She is even free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County clerk.
Michael Aldridge, executive director of the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, announced the legal action against Davis.
“When our laws are updated or changed, government officials have a duty and a responsibility to impartially administer those laws,” Aldridge said at the time.
Ryan T. Anderson, a scholar at The Heritage Foundation who has written extensively on the marriage debate, told The Daily Signal, “We should seek, as much as possible, peaceful coexistence.”
Anderson, the think-tank’s William Simon senior research fellow, added:
Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling, same-sex couples have a right to receive a government marriage license, but this does not mean that every clerk or judge has to issue the license or solemnize the ceremony. In a pluralistic society like ours, we should accommodate diverse beliefs wherever possible. Indeed, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act requires just that.
A lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group that champions religious liberty, cited the Davis case as an example of difficult choices created by the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling June 26 legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the nation.
“I think the bottom line is, in most instances the government can accommodate the religious beliefs of the objecting person,” Jeremy Tedesco, senior counsel for ADF, told The Daily Signal in an interview last month.
An ultimatum of “comply or lose your job” by some LGBT activists and their supporters, Tedesco said, runs counter to the nation’s “rich history of religious freedom and religious accommodation.”
The Associated Press reported that civil disobedience to instructions issued by governors and other state authorities in line with the Supreme Court ruling initially occurred among clerks and other court employees not only in Kentucky, but in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.
Tedesco said ADF offices were “inundated” by calls and emails from courthouse employees and officials who weren’t sure what their office will do, wanted to understand their rights, or sought an accommodation for their faith.
On Wednesday night, Staver said “five lawyers” on the Supreme Court changed Davis’s job duties “without any constitutional authority.” Government, like any employer, has an obligation under federal law to accommodate her religious convictions, he said.
To provide a license is to provide approval and places a legal authority behind what is being licensed. The First Amendment protects actions and not mere thought. Kim Davis should not be forced to violate her religious beliefs.
Liberty Counsel, founded in 1989, is a nonprofit organization that provides free legal assistance in cases in line with a mission to advance religious freedom, the sanctity of life and stronger families.
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