Kim Davis, who was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday and was still acting in defiance of it on Tuesday, would fit right in at the N.C. legislature.
Davis is the county clerk in Kentucky who refuses to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, citing her sincerely held religious beliefs. She said she is acting “under God’s authority.” If she were in North Carolina, she would be acting under Phil Berger’s authority, too, and that of all the other legislators who voted to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2.
That legislation allows N.C. magistrates to refuse to marry gay couples – and assistant registers of deeds not to issue marriage licenses to gay couples – if doing so violates their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” McCrory vetoed it in May with this impeccable argument: “No public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”
The House and Senate quickly overrode the veto. Their rationale was identical to Kim Davis’s.
The Supreme Court, though, is having nothing of it, and the court’s stance suggests that the N.C. law would not fare well at the high court if it ever got there.
North Carolina’s law includes a provision that a register of deeds has to ensure that a marriage license is issued, even if individual employees refuse to do so. And it requires judges to ensure that marriages are performed at least 10 hours a week even if individual magistrates opt out. Those provisions are designed to legally insulate the legislation and have effectively done that so far.
Still, the Supreme Court’s action on Monday reaffirms that the underlying premise of North Carolina’s law – religious convictions trump the Constitution – is unacceptable.
Davis said Tuesday that “I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.” But in fact she undeniably is not serving the people of her county.
Davis is just one county clerk, but her contempt sparks questions about what kind of society we become if we regard Supreme Court opinions as optional. Davis faces possible fines or jail, but she is setting an example. It’s ground paved years ago by Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, who also defied federal court orders before getting booted for it.
We understand that people do indeed hold sincere religious beliefs, and we recognize the tension they must feel when those beliefs conflict with a court ruling. We also believe that some people cite religious beliefs as a cover for their political views.
Either way, McCrory had it right: Your religious beliefs are your business. But when you take an oath to uphold the Constitution and the law, you can’t later take a pass when you feel like it.
Kim Davis – and North Carolina’s magistrates and registers of deeds – should do their jobs. If their religious beliefs prevent it, they are free to seek other roles that are a better fit.