Kim Davis, the elected Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples there, has had a tough week. The issue here is pretty clear-cut. As the holder of an administrative government job, she must comply with the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges this summer institutionalizing marriage equality across the country. She must issue those marriage licenses or resign. Whatever personal beliefs she holds to the contrary, religious included, are completely irrelevant. As Judge David L. Bunning, a George W. Bush appointee, of Federal District Court explained as he ordered Ms. Davis to jail this morning, “if you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.” She will not be released until she either rightfully steps down or begins issuing licenses.
But Kim Davis is just one lone holdout, one irresponsible, local elected official in one county in Kentucky who seems to believe that she has exclusive ownership over the county clerk’s office and its duties. On a national scale and beyond the ephemeral tide of current events, she and her act of civil disobedience are insignificant and will soon be forgotten. Right?
Wrong. Out of the 17-strong Republican field for president, seven have already risen to defend the clerk’s clear inability to understand the principle of separation of church and state. The premise of their defense of Ms. Davis is as simple as it is misguided: the clerk can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because her religious beliefs should be respected under the auspices of religious freedom. The problem is that religious freedom does not give any individual the right to impose their beliefs on others, and especially not on public policy. As a private citizen, Kim Davis is free to worship as she pleases. As a government official, Kim Davis is not free to unilaterally cherry-pick which rules apply and which don’t. Once again, if her values conflict with her duties to the point where she fails to perform them, she should resign.
Kim Davis is one person, and it is not surprising that at least one person responsible for issuing marriage licenses in the United States has refused to do their job in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. What is surprising, however, is that Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz have all lent their weight to her indefensible cause. In light of their polling numbers, their decision screams desperation. In light of the office they aspire to hold, it screams hypocrisy and should disqualify them in the minds of any rational voter, among other considerations. These candidates are or were either governors or senators, and this lends considerable credence and importance to their views as they are or were at some of the highest levels of government policy-makers can reach. As a result, they have tarnished themselves, their offices, and their party, and this calls into question whether these candidates should hold public office of any kind at all.
Donald Trump’s dominance in the race so far has cast a pall over the Republicans that has turned a crowded field into a flurry of panic as candidates vie for slivers of support. In order for their campaigns to gain any momentum, they reason, they must demonstrate their populist, conservative credentials. In this way, Mr. Trump’s candidacy has been revelatory of others’ character. Mike Huckabee, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Ted Cruz clearly have none. If these candidates want an example of what a public official should sound like on this non-issue, they need look no further than their fellow Republican candidate Lindsey Graham, who is also struggling in the polls. Graham said that Ms. Davis should “comply with the law or resign. The rule of law is the rule of law.” This is correct, and it is the only correct answer. That there have been any others is shameful and irresponsible, and it shows just how unfit any of these candidates are for the presidency.