A Few Thoughts on Kim Davis

Kim-Davis-1024x664
Photo from Timothy Easley and the AP

Since the story about Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses, broke, coupled with her jailing for contempt of court, some of my fellow Christians have rushed to her defense citing religious persecution.

For example, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz, two Republican presidential hopefuls, flew to Kentucky to be alongside her at her release from jail.  Mike Huckabee raised her hand in triumph as the song “Eye of the Tiger” played in the background.  The former pastor and governor even went so far as to make the claim (which I believe is shocking) that God “showed up in the form of an elected Democrat named Kim Davis”.

I have to say that I would have liked to discuss this topic in depth on Andy Schmookler and my monthly radio hour last week, but unfortunately other issues took priority.  She reminds me of the Samaritian woman that Jesus met at the well and I brought my Bible into the studio in case I needed it for reference.  Although we weren’t able to tackle this topic on the air, I’d like to share the thoughts of a couple of folks.

The first is by Russell Williams, a self-identified pastor.  Since posting it on Facebook, it has been shared over 125,000 times.  Perhaps you’ve already read it:

Since I am a pastor of a southern Baptist church please allow me to weigh in on the case of Kim Davis, the lady in Kentucky who refuses to issue a marriage licenses to a same sex couple.

First: This is not a case of the government forcing anyone to violate their religious belief. She is free to quit her job. If she quits her job to honor God surely God would take care of her.

Second: This is not a case of someone trying to uphold the sanctity of marriage. If she wanted to uphold the sanctity of marriage she should not have been married four different times. If she is worried about her name being affixed to a marriage license that goes against a biblical definition of marriage, she should not have her name on the last three marriage licenses given to her.

Third: This seems to be a case of someone looking to cash in on the religious right. Churches all across the south will throw money at her to come and tell congregations how the evil American government put her in jail because of her faith in Jesus.

This is why we are losing.
This is why people have such disdain for evangelicals.
Not because we disagree but because we don’t take the bible seriously. If ever there was a case of “he who is without sin cast the first stone”, this is it. If ever there was a “take the log out of your eye” moment, this is it.

We must stop looking to the government to make America a Christian utopia. Our kingdom is not of this world.
We must abandon all thoughts of fixing others and let Jesus fix us.
If we want sanctity of marriage then stop cheating, stop having affairs, stop looking at porn, stop getting divorces. That is the way for the church to stand up for the biblical definition of marriage, not by someone martyring their self-righteous self.

The second arrived in my email inbox today.  It comes from former New Mexico Governor and 2012 Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson:

Friends,

There are 3,143 counties in the United States.

In each of those counties, a public official is responsible for issuing marriage licenses to those who are legally entitled to them.

As far as I am aware, none of those officials is empowered to deny a marriage license to a couple simply because he or she doesn’t approve of the marriage.

But then there is Kim Davis, the elected Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. Claiming religious objections, Ms. Davis refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She even went to jail for a few days rather than carry out her statutory duty. Suddenly, Ms. Davis is a national celebrity, a martyr, a hero, a criminal or whatever — depending on one’s point of view.

We even watched as presidential candidates literally raced to Kentucky to be the first to join Ms. Davis for a photo op outside the jail when she was released.

It was quite a spectacle, and it isn’t over yet.

Religious freedom is important. It is one of the liberties Our America seeks to protect — and even strengthen. That isn’t the issue, despite what too many politicians would have us believe. Ms. Davis has every right to believe whatever it is she believes. But when she is sitting at her taxpayer-funded desk in her taxpayer-funded office in a taxpayer-funded courthouse — collecting her taxpayer-funded salary, she does not have the luxury of imposing her beliefs on those she is elected and paid to serve — especially when doing so means denying marriage rights that have been confirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

It isn’t complicated, and her “disobedience” frankly isn’t worth the attention it has received. All over the nation, every day, public officials carry out responsibilities with which they may not be entirely comfortable. How many gun permits are issued by officials who are anti-gun? How many liquor licenses are handed out by teetotalers? Hundreds, if not thousands, of officials and public employees deal with such “conflicts” every day – – because we live in a nation that is founded on the idea that religious or personal beliefs, while preciously protected, cannot be imposed on the legally-protected freedoms of others. The alternative is tyranny.

Even in the case of marriage equality, while Ms. Davis is having her 15 minutes of fame, state and local officials across the nation are quietly and respectfully adjusting to a new, if long overdue, reality, including taking steps to make it easier for public employees to reconcile their duties with strongly-held beliefs.  If Ms. Davis can’t handle the conflict, then she can find another job. No one’s stopping her, and no one is stopping her beliefs.

It’s that simple.

No, this single County Clerk isn’t the issue. The REAL issue is that politicians, including some who want to be President, are using her behavior to promote an anti-liberty social agenda based on the notion that it is OK for government to impose beliefs at the expense of freedom.

This entire episode has reminded me why we created the Our America Initiative in the first place: To fight back against those who use the force of government to erode liberty — through unnecessary laws, overreaching policies and out-of-control spending and taxes.

The millions of Americans who believe government should exist to protect liberty, not destroy it, deserve a voice…

I don’t believe anyone, including elected officials, should ever be forced to violate his or her conscious or religious beliefs.  Although it was certainly unfortunate, several years ago I wasn’t able to take a political job.  The reason why was that as part of my employment I would have been required to sign a document about my own faith that I did not agree with.  Thus, I was unwilling to sign.  If Ms. Davis is unable to give out marriage licenses due to her beliefs, then I do not fault her for it.  However, she ought to either delegate the task to one of her subordinates or, if that is not possible, resign her position.  In much the same way, when this issue came up earlier in Virginia on the other side of the coin, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring ought to have resigned his office rather that actively opposing the Virginia Constitution that he swore to uphold.

When you couple all of these thoughts with the fact that Ms. Davis has been married multiple times and has conceived children with a man (who wasn’t her husband at the time), one is hard-pressed to make the moral claim that she either knows or cares much about the traditional Christian definition of marriage.  Despite what Mike Huckabee might tell you, I agree with Russell Williams and Gary Johnson.  Kim Davis is neither a hero nor is she is a martyr for the faith.

In closing, as I’ve stated previously, who I decide to marry (if anyone) will ultimately be a covenant between myself, that wonderful woman, and God.  Whether I approve of your marriage, or whether you approve of mine, it isn’t the proper role of the government or people like Kim Davis to give or deny its stamp of acceptance.

Divorce The Government And Marriage!

Image from http://www.deviantart.com/art/just-married-294243687
Image from http://www.deviantart.com/art/just-married-294243687

As everyone presumably knows, last week the Supreme Court ruled that state laws forbidding homosexual marriage are unconstitutional.  What you may not remember, is that almost exactly two years ago, in late June of 2013, the Supreme Court declared that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act was also unconstitutional.

At that time, I wrote a piece on this website offering my thoughts on the matter.  In the ensuing conversation on Facebook, I added, “If two people wish to live together and create all manner of contracts, be they insurance-related, will-related, or what have you, that is their business. However, I would argue that marriage is something special, something different that ought to be respected.”

Yes, back in 2006, I happily voted for an amendment to the Virginia Constitution that would not accept any definition of marriage in this state beyond one man and one woman.  That was my belief and, as such, I wanted the government to defend it.  However, the unforeseen question I didn’t think to ask then was whether it was appropriate to allow the government to define what is or what is not marriage.

Although I haven’t found any definitive evidence yet (and if any reader would care to provide it I would be grateful),  I’ve been informed that government marriage licenses are a rather new phenomenon in this country, crafted as a way to prevent blacks and whites from intermarrying.

In late 2013, the woman who I had once loved with every ounce of my being asked me what I thought of marriage licenses.  Although I thought it a rather peculiar question for her to ask at that time, given that our relationship was all but destroyed, it did get me thinking.  Licenses are a form of government control over who can and who cannot become married.  In certain cultures and times they have been used to prevent marriages by class, by race, by socioeconomic or political status, and yes, by gender too.  In addition, sometimes the power of the state was used to force two people to get married.  What if, as a result of the colour of my skin, or my religion, or my income, or my political affiliation, or something as simple as my family, the government tried to prevent me from marrying the woman I loved or compelled me to marry someone I didn’t?  I’m sure you would be absolutely furious as I would be!

Now, obviously such an event would be quite unlikely in modern America.  After all, I am white, Christian, and one day seeking to marry someone of the opposite sex, so presumably our society wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.  However, we’ve heard recent stories in some African and Asian countries of Christian and Muslim couples put to death for daring to be with someone of a different religion.

If we believe that the purpose of government is to protect the lives, liberties, and property of her citizens, where does marriage fall in that spectrum?  From where does the government derive the right to determine who is or who is not married?  By that same token, if you or your business decide not to take part in a marriage ceremony that you find morally objectionable, isn’t that your right as well?  Does the government have the right to force a private individual or business to be a party to a behaviour they consider immoral?

To offer a quote from Thomas Jefferson on another moral matter, “but our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them.  The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit.  We are answerable for them to our God.  The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god.  It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  Along those same lines, you may rejoice or be sullen about your neighbors’ marriage, but, either way, that doesn’t give you the right to use the government to force your worldview upon them.  In addition, whether you support or oppose gay marriage, please show me in the Constitution where the government has the expressed authority to weigh in on that issue.

Both conservatives and liberals must remember that when they attempt to use the government to enforce their social agendas, they have surrendered the argument and the power to the whims of government and that one day that very same power can be used in the exact opposite way than they had originally intended!

What I find most troubling about the two Supreme Court decisions from last week is that the courts are continuing to assume authority well beyond their proscribed limits.  Whether you are happy or upset about this issue of marriage, do we really want to hand more authority (especially legislative) to an unelected and unaccountable body whose members serve for life?  I don’t!  The last I checked, neither men and women in black robes nor legislators and bureaucrats are either our pastors or our priests…and we should never let them assume that role.

Yes, I look forward to finding and marrying a woman with whom I hope to spend the rest of my life, but is that decision, which is supposed to be made between the two of us, any business of the government?  The take-home lesson from these last several years is that we need to divorce the government from a lot of issues in which has usurped authority…including marriage.

Delegate Berg on AG Herring

A few moments ago, Delegate Mark Berg issued the following press release concerning Attorney General Mark Herring and his decision to actively subvert the Virginia Constitution in direct violation of his oath of office.
Berg Calls Herring’s Refusal to Defend VA Marriage Amendment “Inexcusable”
As Attorney General, Mark Herring has an obligation to make
sure the marriage amendment is defended in court.

Richmond, VA | 1/27/2014 On Friday Del. Berg signed a letter from Del. Marshall, along with over fifty members of the House of Delegates, calling on Gov. McAuliffe to appoint a special counsel to defend Virginia’s marriage amendment.  Attorney General Herring swore an oath to defend the VA Constitution.  Within a matter of days he refused to defend a section of the constitution and he and the Governor have yet to appoint a Special Council to defend the measure.  Not only is Attorney General Herring refusing to defend the VA Constitution, but as the lawyer for the state of Virginia he filed suit against the people he is supposed to represent.

Del. Berg stated, “Leaving the state without legal representation is a violation of the law.  If Attorney General Herring feels he can not defend the law in court, he and the governor are still obligated to make sure the law has adequate representation.  It adds insult to injury that Attorney General Herring has decided to join in filing suit against the amendment.  In no other situation does a client’s lawyer file suit against that same client who he represents and who pays his bills.  I hope Governor McAuliffe promptly appoints a special counsel to defend the amendment.  It is inexcusable for the Governor and Attorney General to refuse to uphold their oaths in such a flagrant manner.  If the way for the party in power to kill laws is to refuse to defend them in court, then there is little point for the legislature to vote, and the people to approve them by referendum.  I am committed to standing strong in defense of Virginia’s laws and the democratic process.”
Delegate Berg represents the 29th, which includes parts of Frederick and Warren counties and the city of Winchester.  He currently serves on the Militia Police and Public Safety Committee, and Science and Technology Committee.

Mark Herring, Unfit for Office?

Photo from Mark Herring's Facebook Page
Photo from Mark Herring’s Facebook Page

Newly elected Attorney General Mark Herring recently announced that he would work to fight Virginia’s same sex marriage ban.  However, when taking the oath of office, didn’t Herring pledge uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of Virginia?  If so, someone ought to remind him that in 2006 Virginia voters approved the Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution which declared:

Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.

Certainly Virginians ought to revisit their laws from time to time and decide if past decisions ought to upheld or corrected.  Perhaps it is time for the citizens and legislators to address this issue once more.  However, it is deeply troubling to hear news that the attorney general is more or less abrogating his duty for political reasons.  Wasn’t it Herring’s own campaign who declared “The Kind of Attorney General Mark Herring Will Be As Attorney General, Mark Herring will put the law first, not politics.”  If he proceeds down this path, it is clear that Virginians have been deceived.

In response, Senator Mark Obenshain, who narrowly lost last year’s attorney general race, offered the following statement:

Obenshain Statement on Attorney General Mark Herring’s
Decision to Brief Against Virginia in Marriage Amendment Case
RICHMOND — Today, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) issued the following statement about Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement that his office will not defend Virginia’s Marriage Amendment, and will be filing a brief asking the court to strike down a provision of the state constitution.

“Virginians, like millions of others across the country, are engaged in a robust debate over marriage, one that speaks to an important unresolved constitutional issue. Here in Virginia, the state’s Marriage Amendment is a matter of perennial legislative debate, and that Amendment could well fall: the voters could repeal it or a court may strike it down. But it is emphatically not the role of the Attorney General to make that determination unilaterally, and that may well be the consequence of Attorney General Herring’s decision.

“Fair minded people disagree on the issue of gay marriage, but this is, fundamentally, about the rule of law and allowing the system to work. Whether the Marriage Amendment will survive court scrutiny is clearly an unresolved question, but our system of law does not work when one side of the argument fails to show up. It is manifestly the job of the Attorney General to defend the law and let it rise or fall on it merits in court.”

Attorney General Herring, who on the campaign trail refused to take a clear position on whether he would defend Virginia law in this and other instances, will be filing a brief in support of the plaintiffs, according to spokeswoman Ellen Qualls.

“The Attorney General is the Commonwealth’s lawyer,” said Obenshain. “It is deeply inappropriate for the Attorney General to use state resources to actively oppose a duly ratified constitutional amendment. Through this decision, Herring is effectively seeking to unilaterally reverse the actions of the General Assembly in adopting the Amendment, and the people of Virginia in ratifying it. There are deeply held convictions on both sides of this issue, which is why it is all the more important that the case has its day on court—and that both sides of the dispute are ably and robustly argued.”

In a September interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Herring said that he would “poll the attorneys in the attorney general’s office who have the expertise in the particular subject matter” to help him determine whether or not to defend the Marriage Amendment or other laws in court. At a debate on October 2nd, he pointedly declined to state whether he would defend state laws with which he disagreed.

Obenshain concluded, “I look forward to working with the Attorney General on many important issues for the good of all Virginians, and have no intention of highlighting every possible point of disagreement that may arise throughout Herring’s term in office, but I consider the question of whether or not the Office of the Attorney General is to defend Virginia law a matter of utmost importance, something that goes to the heart of the duties of the Attorney General. This is especially true given Mark Herring’s dissembling comments made over the past six months on the campaign trail.  Virginians should be disappointed that he didn’t display the courage to share his intentions when repeatedly asked during his campaign. Today’s decision sets a disturbing precedent and has the potential to deprive Virginians on both sides of this important issue of the legal scrutiny the matter clearly merits.”

Friends, this issue is about much more than the definition of marriage in Virginia.  One shouldn’t fall into the trap of supporting this action just because he or she happens to support gay marriage.  Should Attorney General Herring attempt to redefine the law outside of the legislative process, should he fail to uphold his oath of office, it seems clear that he is unfit for the position for which he was elected and thus ought to either resign or be removed.

Marriage & The Feds

In the wake of the Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, I have been asked my thoughts on this matter. To recap, over the years so many social conservatives have looked to the federal government to uphold traditional marriage while social liberals ask the government to grant what they feel are basic civil rights to homosexuals.

Well, when it comes to the issue of marriage and the federal government my thoughts are quite simple.  The federal government has no constitutional authority to determine what marriage is or what it is not.  It is really that simple.  Regardless on which side of the social divide you happen to fall, granting the federal government this extra constitutional authority is not only improper, it is also dangerous.

For those of you who run to the federal government looking for a redress on this issue, my challenge to you is to clearly show where the Constitution authorizes the government this power.  Can you do so?  Or has the government in Washington become some sort of catch all, a governing body of unlimited power than can decide every facet of our lives?

What if the people of Massachusetts wish to permit gay marriage?  Is it their right to do so?  And should a heavy-handed federal government be able to squash this proposal?  Similarly, what if the people of Tennessee wish to outlaw gay marriage?  Are they allowed similarly to make that sort of decision?  Or should the federal government intervene to promote “the national will”?  Whether the definition of marriage ought to be left to the churches, the states, or the people themselves, one is hard-pressed to make the legal justification of federal involvement other than for the sake of national uniformity.

Now, that’s not to say that I do not have an opinion on the subject of marriage.  I do believe that healthy marriages are the fundamental building block of society and I supported the Marshall Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution in 2006 that defined marriage in this state as being between one man and one woman.  However, that decision came about through an amendment to our state constitution, the most fundamental ruling document in this state.  It wasn’t a mere law, but a power that required constitutional changes to allow the government to take a stand.  This same rule should apply to the federal government as well.  If it wishes to take a position on this issue either in favor or opposition to gay marriage, then pass a constitutional amendment allowing it the authority to do so.  Granted, it is not an easy process, but, much like the drug war, without this explicit power, any action that the federal government takes in this matter is a clear violation of the governing rules of our nation.

Regardless of how you fall in this issue, whether you seek to promote traditional values or to enhance the civil rights of our fellow citizens, I caution liberals, conservatives, and even some libertarians not to look to the federal government to solve this issue of marriage.  Keep in mind that whenever you surrender authority to this increasingly unrestrained body, you lose any moral grounds to complain in the future should they one day take a position that stands in stark contrast to your own.

Conservative Politics. Gay Politics.

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to attend a forum entitled “Is There a Place for Gay People in Conservatism and Conservative Politics?” offered by the Cato Institute.  I hope that this event will spawn several posts, but let me first tackle the issue of gay people and conservatism.  Briefly going through the forum itself, the panel consisted of Nick Herbert (a member of the Conservative Party and the UK parliament) Andrew Sullivan (a well known author and blogger), and Maggie Gallagher (President of the National Organization for Marriage).  Each of the three answered the above question a bit differently.  Mr. Herbert, as a successful member of the Conservative Party, supported the fusion of gay and conservative politics and outlined ways in which the two are successfully merging in Great Britain.  By contrast, Mr. Sullivan thought that the current trends within the Republican Party create a very hostile environment for gays and thus the situation in the United States is not favorable for a union.  From what I could gather from Mrs. Gallagher, she seemed to approve of gays in the conservative movement so long as they did not push for gay marriage.  As a result of her stance, throughout the forum, both Mr. Sullivan and Mrs. Gallagher had several rather tense moments as each seemed to irritate the other.  Overall, I would say the forum was quite interesting.  In retrospect, I wish that I were a bit more lucid during the proceedings and discussion afterward.  One of the attendees asked me what my thoughts were on gay marriage and rather than giving a clear and concise answer, I tried to sidestep the issue as a result of my foggy head.  He understood my meaning, but for an involved activist like myself, it was embarrassing.  Therefore, let me share my thoughts on whether there is a place for gay people in conservatism.

When it comes to fiscal conservatism, there is no reason why a gay person and a non-gay person could not hold very similar positions.  Lower taxes, a balanced budget, reduced government spending, these are issues where attitudes toward homosexuality hold little bearing.  Presumably being gay or not being gay should not hold any sway on fiscal matters.  The real crux of the matter comes in social conservatism.  For starters, the simple fact of the matter is that many social conservatives view homosexual activity as immoral, and, as a result, many do not wish to associate with people who engage in such behavior.  They do not look for common ground.  Although not all social conservatives shun the gay community, there certainly is a tension that exists for many.  But certainly gay people can hold socially conservative views.  For example, gay and non-gays alike can be against abortion or euthanasia.  Prayer in schools and open religious displays might be a little cloudy.  Although I didn’t really think about it much beforehand, as a result of this forum, I believe that the real driving wedge is the issue of marriage.

Marriage from the gay perspective (as I understand it)

I would assume that the majority of gays view marriage as a civil issue.  If other folks in society are allowed to marry, why can’t they?  To deny them this ability relegates them to second-class citizens where they do not enjoy all of the rights and privileges of straight men and women.  It is a matter of freedom, tolerance, and acceptance.

Marriage from the social conservative perspective (as I understand it)

To many social conservatives, marriage is not merely a civil activity; it is the legal bonding of two people, a religious action.  God has ordained it since the beginning of time.  It existed before the birth of our nation and will continue long after we are a faint memory.  Therefore, governments have no right to interfere with an institution created by a higher power; they can merely serve as a guardian.  Marriage is, and can only be, between one man and one woman.  The issue is a matter of honoring God and his laws.

And there in lies the problem.  How can one side reconcile with the other over the marriage question?  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that they can.  This issue bears a striking similarity to the abortion issue.  Pro-choicers see the subject as promoting a woman’s control over her body and not bringing an unwanted child into the world.  Pro-lifers see the matter as the murder of an innocent life.  There is not and cannot be any reconciliation between the two groups as long as they both maintain their viewpoints.

So is there a place for gay people in conservative politics?  I believe that there is considerable shared ground between conservatives and many in the gay community and that both could profit from mutual cooperation.  For example, in the critical fight against abortion, one would be foolhardy to disregard any potential allies.  That having been said, many social conservatives will harbor the constant fear that cooperation will serve to legitimize homosexual activity and offend their religious beliefs.  In addition, the division over the marriage issue will make any arrangement unstable at best.  Will it work?  Will social conservatives and gay folks want to make it work?  I don’t know.  So to answer the question, without the aid of a magic 8 ball, all I can say is definitely maybe.  Sorry.

For another far more detailed take on this forum, I encourage you to read Rick Sincere’s article.