On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States entered a ruling that drastically changed the rights for gay individuals in this country by legalizing gay marriage in every state in the United States.[i] Prior to this decision 14 states still banned gay marriage and had no foreseeable future where gay marriage would be legal. This decision was groundbreaking in more ways than one. It not only provided the potential for marital benefits to couples who could not previously marry, it created a lot of chaos for those individuals who were still adamantly against gay marriage. One individual in particular made a huge splash into the media spotlight when she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples even after the Supreme Court ruling. This woman was Kim Davis of Kentucky. Kim Davis was not the only individual who refused to issue marriage licenses after the decision, but she was certainly the most high profile of them all.
The Supreme Court Decision to Remove Ban on Gay Marriage across the United States
The United States provides each individual state a lot of sovereignty to make decisions that affect its individual states. This would include the authority to rule that gay marriage is not permitted within that state. Recognizing marriage between all couples does not stop with just providing marriage licenses, it encompasses a lot more than that. Once a state recognizes gay marriage, the state will also recognize gay divorce proceedings. Even though the state will likely increase revenue from an influx of couples wanting to both get married, and now get divorced, it was still up to the law makers of that state to determine if the state would permit gay marriage.
When the Supreme Court basically made the decision for the states that gay marriage would be accepted in every state, the federal government stepped on the toes of the state governments and their sovereign ability to make decisions for its state. While the federal government took a little bit of decisions making away from the states, it had a huge impact on the social issue of gay marriage in the United States. So far the only issues that have risen from this decision have been with individuals, primarily with the clerk of the court, who have made a huge splash in the media. The individual states have yet to make a big deal out of the decision, so it is just left to the individual citizens who adamantly opposed the decision
Clerk of the Court Staff Walks Off Job After Supreme Court Decision
In Decatur County Tennessee an entire clerk’s office resigned after the Supreme Court decision was released that gay marriage would be legalized in all fifty states across the United States.[ii] In order to obtain a marriage license, the couple must apply for the license at the clerk of the court in the state where the couple plans to marry. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling authorizing gay marriage across the United States, many employees of the clerk’s office began to have strong feelings about actually issuing marriage licenses to gay couples – even though it was a part of their job description. So, rather than go against what they each believed in, the entire staff just got up and quit. One employee was quoted saying that their decision was for the glory of God.[iii] Even though this put the county of Decatur Tennessee in a bad position for individuals who wished to obtain a marriage license, it is much better than what the next individual did.
Kim Davis: The High Profile Clerk who refused to Issue Marriage Licenses
While there were dozens of individuals who openly opposed issuing marriage licenses to gay couples while employed at the clerk’s office, one individual in particular made a huge splash in the spotlight when she refused to give out marriage licenses. Her name is Kim Davis and the controversy around her decisions ended in five days in jail and her name is now infamously remembered by millions of individuals. One thing that made Kim Davis stand out from the individuals in Decatur County, Tennessee was that Kim Davis also refused to quit her job with the clerk’s office where the workers from Tennessee quit based off their religious beliefs.
The role that an individual plays while working for the federal government is an agent of the government. This means that the views of the agent working for the federal government are representing the federal government – not their own personal views. This is true even if the personal views of the agent conflicts with the views of the federal government. In this case, the views of Kim Davis was that gay marriage was against god and as such, she could not in good faith hand out marriage licenses to gay couples. The views of the federal government was that gay marriage was permitted so gay couples who wished to apply for a marriage license should be granted that license without issue. In Tennessee, the individuals who acted as agents for the government in their role at the clerk’s office decided that their personal goals were too different from the view point of the federal government, which was the view point they were asked to uphold. For this reason, the entire office decided to quit based on principle. This is really the only option that individuals have for this type of situation.
Kim Davis on the other hand did not act in such a prudent manner. Kim Davis also worked as an agent for the federal government and had a viewpoint that differed from the federal government. Rather than quitting her job at the clerk’s office, Kim Davis continued to work and just refused to hand out marriage licenses to gay couples. Kim Davis began to immediately refuse marriage licenses to gay couples and within hours of this refusal the media was present to capture the moment.[iv] This is no surprise considering the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage had just occurred, so anything as high profile as a clerk refusing a marriage license was bound to make it into the media spotlight. Kim Davis saw this as an opportunity to try to advocate for her position that there should be some type of protection for government workers who oppose the work that they are doing.[v] While it is possible that raising this issue at another point in time would have not been so controversial, raising this issue immediately after a major case was just decided there was just no way around this story blowing up.
Shortly after Kim Davis began to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples, rallies began to sprout up – for both sides of the argument.[vi] The Family Foundation of Kentucky held a rally in favor of Kim Davis and her right to deny marriage licenses to gay couples.[vii] This was just the beginning to rallies and interviews Kim Davis was asked to be apart of because of her actions at her role at the clerk’s office.
Shortly after refusing marriage license to gay couples, Kim Davis had lawsuits filed against her.[viii] The various couples that were denied those marriage licenses while Kim Davis was working in her official capacity at the clerk’s office filed these lawsuits against Kim Davis.[ix] In a decision that was rendered in August of that same year, the court issued a temporary stay against Kim Davis’ policy of no marriage licenses for gay couples, which would require Kim Davis to hand out marriage licenses to all couples equally – even gay couples. One court wrote that the holder of the Rowan County clerk’s office cannot defensibly argue that she can decline to act in conformity with the United States Constitution – which now states that gay marriage is legal in all the fifty states. Again, Kim Davis was acting as an agent for the federal government and this meant that whatever the United States Constitution said was permissible she had to uphold while working in her role for the federal government. Kim Davis did try to appeal the decision but was unsuccessful.
Shortly after this decision, the same couples that Kim Davis denied marriage licenses to sought to have the court find Kim Davis in contempt of court for her denial of the marriage licenses.[x] Kim Davis was indeed found in contempt of court and spent five days in jail. Even after spending time in jail for her refusal to issue the marriage license, Kim Davis returned to her job with the clerk’s office and continued to refuse to personally hand out marriage licenses to gay couples.[xi]
It is interesting to note that even after all these issues, Kim Davis neither quit nor was fired from her position with the clerk’s office. In fact, after Kim Davis returned from her short stay in jail, the clerk’s office made accommodations for her in her official role. Now, Kim Davis is not actively trying to prevent others in the clerk’s office from issuing marriage licenses but she is still refusing to take part in the issuing process.[xii] In order to accommodate Kim Davis in this manner, the clerk’s office just refrains from using her name on any documentation relating to the issuance of marriage licenses.[xiii]
As a general rule, a person working for the federal government is an agent of the government and must uphold the viewpoints of the United States Constitution. In rare occasions, an individual working as an agent will be able to uphold their own personal views – if those views conflict with the views of the federal government. After much turmoil and even jail time, Kim Davis is finally able to work in her role as an agent for the federal government at the clerk’s office and uphold her religious views that gay marriage is wrong. While she cannot stop others from giving out marriage license to gay couples, she is no longer required to do so herself. This is not a typical scenario, but considering the facts of this situation – it is not surprising this story ended the way it did.
[i] See Bob Fredricks Supreme Court Approves Gay Marriage Nationwide New York Post (Published June 26, 2015) http://nypost.com/2015/06/26/supreme-court-approves-gay-marriage-nationwide/
[ii] See Dr. Susan Berry Entire County Clerk Office Resigns over Same-Sex Marriage Brietbart Big Government (Published July 3, 2015) http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/07/03/entire-county-clerk-office-resigns-over-same-sex-marriage/
[iv] See Alan Blinder and Richard Perez-Pena Kentucky Clerk Denies Same-Sex Marriage License, Defying Court The New York Times (Published September 1, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/us/same-sex-marriage-kentucky-kim-davis.html?_r=0
[vii] See Kim Davis (County Clerk) Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia (Accessed July 20, 2016) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kim_Davis_(county_clerk)
[x] See Alan Blinder and Richard Perez-Pena Kentucky Clerk Denies Same-Sex Marriage License, Defying Court The New York Times (Published September 1, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/us/same-sex-marriage-kentucky-kim-davis.html?_r=0
[xi] See Mariano Castillo and Kevin Conlon Kim Davis Stands Ground, but same-sex Couple gets Marriage License CNN Politics (Published September 14, 2015) http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/14/politics/kim-davis-same-sex-marriage-kentucky/