It started with a bad decision to take the matter of same-sex marriage out of the hands of the voters and into the hands of the courts. Now, without support from the majority of people in Kentucky, they are forced to accept a law and their legislature has been denied even the chance to create legislation that addresses the wants and needs of their constituents. Christians feel persecuted for religious beliefs that are in conflict with the Supreme Court’s edict. The LGBT community is put in an awkward position of appearing to put their rights above those of others. All the bad things that the dissenting Justices wrote in their opinions are coming true. The result is a situation where no one looks good, or wise.
Next was what arguably another bad decision, that of Kim Davis, the county clerk charged with implementing part of the Court’s decision. Being an Evangelical Christian, she feels she does not have the authority to approve marriage licenses for same-sex couples. The fact that the government has approval authority of any marriage, gay or otherwise is in itself questionable. Other than verifying age, legal identity, and current marital status, what is there to approve? (Under the current Supreme Court ruling, marital status should no longer even be an issue, but that is a subject for another day.) She didn’t resign, nor did the take the out that the judge gave her– that she simply not interfere if her deputies signed the documents instead. It seems that given a way to keep her job, yet not lend her stamp of approval to the marriage documents was not sufficient. Her stance is admirable, even brave, but when a judge offers you a face-saving way out, you ought to seriously consider it. Again, her civil disobedience while principled, forgets the fact that she’s a public servant and is not free to choose which policies she supports. Perhaps she’s simply following the example of sanctuary city mayors, or presidents with their pens and phones, so maybe her confusion is understandable.
The judge who locked her up for contempt probably didn’t much consider the optics of sending someone to jail obsessively for having religious views incompatible with the official stance of the government. A fine would seem more in keeping with sentencing norms than outright jail time. It makes her a martyr and so in the end makes the government’s position look unwise, if not outright tyrannical. It pits needlessly one group of Americans against another.
Certainly the choice of bypassing the democratic, albeit slower process in favor of the quicker, easier judicial rout failed to build a sufficiently strong foundation of public support. Putting someone behind bars for expressing deeply held religious beliefs does not do much to support the tolerance argument. It will serve to build up resentment and distrust amongst a segment of the population already suspicious of the Federal government. The results have been predictable, and were predicted by Justices Roberts and Scalia in their dissents. At every turn, a series of poor judgments has snowballed into debacle. Now it will take a Kentucky legislature with the wisdom of Solomon to split this baby in a way that satisfies all parties. The courts, if they have any wisdom, should step back and allow those elected by the people sort out a mess they helped to create.