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“Under God’s Authority”

September 1, 2015

Rowan County, Kentucky, has a population of just over 23,000, according to the 2010 census. Therefore, according to Kentucky law, the county clerk of Rowan County, with credit for years served as deputy county clerk, earns a salary of $87,997.

Jean Bailey served as Rowan County clerk from 1978 to 2015, and for 26 years she employed her daughter, Kim Davis, in the clerk’s office. When Ms. Bailey decided to retire, her daughter ran to succeed her. Ms. Davis had an exceptionally tight Democratic primary race, but she won by a 23-vote margin. She had only a slightly easier time in the general election, beating her Republican rival by 6.3 percent of the vote.

It is at least an interesting side note that one of the duties of a county clerk in Kentucky is to chair the county board of elections. The county clerk is also responsible for receiving “applications” for voter registration and entering them into the state’s database. County clerks are explicitly permitted to exercise their electoral responsibilities for elections in which they are candidates, and therefore presumably also for elections in which their daughters are candidates.

So Ms. Bailey employed her daughter as a deputy county clerk, then presided over the board of elections while her daughter ran to replace her. In a government that places any importance on ethics, both would be impermissible conflicts of interest.

During her election campaign, Ms. Davis told the Moreland News, “The public is my boss. As a deputy clerk …, being a public servant is ingrained in me and I want continue providing the high level of customer service we do while treating people with respect, kindness, and helping them with whatever situation they have.” Bookmark that phrase: “treating people with respect, kindness, and helping them with whatever situation they have.”

After Ms. Davis won the election, she told the News, “My words can never express the appreciation but I promise to each and every one that I will be the very best working clerk that I can be and will be a good steward of their tax dollars and follow the statutes of this office to the letter.” Bookmark that phrase, too: “follow the statutes of this office to the letter.”

Ms. Davis took office on Monday, January 5, 2015. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held that same-sex couples are constitutionally entitled to marriage licenses issued by the states. One of the duties of a county clerk in Kentucky is to issue marriage licenses.

Rather than comply with the Supreme Court decision, Ms. Davis stopped issuing all marriage licenses – the only Kentucky county clerk to do so. A federal judge ordered her to resume issuing marriage licenses, and an appellate court declined to intervene. Yesterday, the Supreme Court also declined to intervene, but today Ms. Davis continued to refuse to issue any marriage licenses.

Initially this morning, Ms. Davis left it to her staff to turn away same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses – she sat in her office with the blinds drawn. Eventually she came of out of her office and asked the couples to leave. Someone said that he would not leave until he got his marriage license. “Then you’re going to have a long day,” Ms. Davis retorted. That is evidently what passes for “treating people with respect, kindness, and helping them with whatever situation they have” in Ms. Davis’s world.

Someone asked Ms. Davis under whose authority she was denying them marriage licenses. She responded, “Under God’s authority.”

The couples suing Ms. Davis immediately asked the federal court to find Ms. Davis in contempt of court, and a hearing on the motion was scheduled for Thursday.

Ms. Davis issued a statement this morning, saying in part, “I was elected by the people to serve as the County Clerk. I intend to continue to serve the people of Rowan County, but I cannot violate my conscience.” Evidently that is what passes for “follow the statutes of this office to the letter” in Ms. Davis’s world.

According to Ms. Davis’s attorneys, the act her conscience cannot abide is the placement of her name on a license for the marriage of two members of the same sex. A county clerk is also responsible, for instance, to record deeds for property – we don’t yet know whether Ms. Davis’s conscience can abide recording the deed for a house to be occupied by a same-sex couple. A county clerk is responsible for printing election ballots – we don’t yet know whether Ms. Davis’s conscience can abide printing a ballot with, say, the name of a candidate who is married to a person of the same sex.

For each of six government jobs I have held, I was required to swear an oath to abide by the constitution of the United States. The oath provides no exceptions for religion or conscience. Ms. Davis swore a similar oath, and her oath included no exception for constitutional provisions she dislikes.

The point, of course, is that public officials are required to comply with the laws of the United States, and if they think the laws of God prohibit them from complying with the laws of the United States, they may resign and find other employment. There is no religious exception for the execution of public duties by a public servant, and there never has been.

Ms. Davis has failed to find a judge to say otherwise, even though she has gone up to the Supreme Court and back in the effort.

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