Kim Davis versus same-sex marriage

I have been following with interest the events in Rowan County, Kentucky.  Since the Supreme Court handed down their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26th legalizing same-sex marriage, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has refused to issue marriage licenses.  Davis has cited her sincerely held religious beliefs as an Apostolic Christian, specifically her opposition to homosexuality, as the reason why she should be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.

Represented by the ultra-conservative Liberty Counsel, Davis took her case all the way to the Supreme Court.  On August 31st they declined to stay the United States District Court’s ruling that Davis must issue marriage licenses to all applicants.  In response, Davis continued to refuse to issue licenses, arguing that she was acting “under God’s authority.”  In a statement earlier this week Davis declared:

“To issue a marriage license which conflicts with God’s definition of marriage, with my name affixed to the certificate, would violate my conscience.  It is not a light issue for me. It is a Heaven or Hell decision.”

Finally, on September 3rd Davis was jailed by Federal District Judge David L. Bunning for contempt of court.  Bunning ordered Davis’ deputy clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses, which they did the following day.

I have no doubt that Davis’ beliefs are deeply and passionately felt.  Nevertheless, for several reasons, her actions are wrong.

First of all, there is a question of hypocrisy on Davis’ part.  She has been married four times to three different men.  As reported by U.S. News and World Report:

“She gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second. Davis worked at the clerk’s office at the time of each divorce and has since remarried.”

I am not a Christian.  Nevertheless I know how to use Google.  After conducting a quick search I came across this passage:

“But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.” – Matthew 5:32

Davis’ attorney argued that whatever her past sins, when she converted to Apostolic Christianity four years ago it wiped the slate clean, and she has been a God-fearing, righteous woman since then.  That’s more than a bit convenient!  But let’s go with that.  Even if that was the case, are we to believe that Davis didn’t issue any marriage licenses to divorced people since she found God?  If she now values the sanctity of matrimony so much, shouldn’t she be denying not just gay people licenses but also people who were previously married?

Kim Davis bigotry cartoon

Second, the argument that she should not have to perform the duties of her job because they violate her ethical and moral beliefs is nonsensical.  Most people will be able to tell you about occasions when their jobs required them to perform tasks that they found onerous.

Speaking from personal experience, I worked at a health insurance company for seven years. On several occasions that company canceled group short term disability policies held by businesses because they had too many claims. I was told to inform those businesses that A) their policy was canceled and B) they still had to send us their past due premiums.  I thought it was wrong to cancel policies like that.  But I did what my bosses told me to because I had bills to pay and I did not want to get fired.  I did not say to them “I refuse to perform my job because what you are asking me to do is against my personal moral beliefs, but I expect you to still keep me on as an employee.”  If I had really felt that strongly then I should have just resigned.

And that is what Davis should have done. If you believe that you cannot perform your job without violating your “sincerely held religious beliefs” then quit and find a new job that will not present that conflict.

Just imagine if a situation similar to this occurred with, say, an ultra-conservative Muslim man who worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles.  Suppose that Muslim refused to issue drivers licenses to women due to his religious beliefs.  I fully expect that the same ultra right-wing conservatives who are championing Davis’ cause would be utterly aghast at this.  They would be screaming in horror about “Sharia law” and predicting the downfall of America.  But because Davis is a white Christian woman she is a “martyr” whose religious liberty is being trampled, or some such nonsense.

As for why Davis doesn’t just quit and find a new job, per the Lexington Herald-Leader, there is this:

“County clerk jobs are worth quite a bit. Davis earns about $80,000 a year in a county where per capita income is about $15,600 and median household income just under $30,000, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census.”

Davis wants to have her cake and eat it too.  She wants to follow the dictates of her faith and keep her well-paying position.  In this matter another Bible verse immediately comes to mind:

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” – Matthew 6:24

Third, Davis and her lawyers argued that gay couples simply travel to the next county and obtain marriage licenses there.  To which I would respond, why should same sex couples be subjected to an inconvenience that heterosexual couples do not have to deal with?  And let us say that these couples did travel to the next county to obtain licenses.  What happens if they get there and that county’s clerk, due to his or her “sincerely held religious beliefs”, also decides not to issue them licenses?  How far do these couples have to travel before it becomes utterly unreasonable?  Fifty miles?  One hundred miles?  Five hundred miles?  How much is too much?

In any case, the whole “go to the next county” argument is more than a bit reminiscent of segregation.  It is like a black person being told “No, you cannot use this water fountain, it is for whites only, but there’s another water fountain out back that you’re allowed to use.”  Simply put, that is humiliating.  It is an affront to basic human dignity.

sanctity of marriage

Fourth, and most important, the United States is not a theocracy.  We have a very clear separation of church and state.

On September 3 the Anti-Defamation League issued the following statement:

“Many of us make important decisions in our daily lives grounded in our religious values and beliefs. That should be respected, even per­haps, applauded. However when one chooses to take an oath of office or accepts a position as a public official in a secular constitutional democracy like ours, she has a responsibility to do the job she was hired to do. Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis’s job requires her to issue marriage licenses to anyone who may legally get married.

Likewise, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear stated that upon being elected Davis swore an oath of office to perform her duties.  Therefore:

“Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe. But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act.”

Davis’ religious freedoms are not being suppressed or discriminated against.  She still has the right to go to church and worship God in the manner she wishes.  She is not being asked to change her mind about gay marriage.  When she is not at work she is free to get on a soapbox and preach to the world about the supposed evils of homosexuality, or to spend all her free time campaigning for the passage of a Constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriages.

But when Davis is in the County Clerk’s office, acting in an official capacity as an agent of the state, she must perform the duties of her job.  Either that or she must resign.

Yes, some laws are bad and should be fought.  But there are proper methods to challenge unjust statues, by court actions, peaceful protest and civil disobedience.  A person cannot simply argue “This law is wrong, I refuse to follow it, and I am going to perform my job the way I personally believe it should be done. Now go away and leave me alone.”

If Davis is accommodated in this case it would set a dangerous precedent.  Imagine if any government employee could refuse to follow orders or perform their duties due to ethical or religious concerns?  The result would be complete chaos.

Perhaps you may be wondering why I, as a heterosexual male, feel so passionately about this.  Why am I happy about the Supreme Court’s decision in June?  Why am I so alarmed by the actions of Kim Davis and others like her?

Well, in addition to actually possessing empathy for other human beings and feeling distress at seeing others denied equality, there is also my personal background.  I was born & raised Jewish. Growing up I learned all about the immense suffering and discrimination that Jews experienced over the centuries in countries that had an official state religion.  I am a very firm believer in the separation of church and state.

So when I see the rational for denying gay couples the right to marry as “God defined marriage as between a man and a woman” or “the Bible says homosexuality is a sin,” no, I am not going to stand for it.  Keep your religion out of my government.

The Supreme Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage

“Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” – James Madison (1789)

The United States Supreme Court issued two major decisions this week.  The first of these once again upheld the Affordable Care Act aka Obamacare.  I previously wrote about the ACA three years ago and my feelings remain pretty much the same.  So feel free to go to that blog post for my opinions concerning that issue.

The other decision arrived at by the Supreme Court, via a 5 to 4 vote, was to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states.  The four liberal and four conservative justices all voted as expected, with the deciding vote cast by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

In cases such as these, where the Court has been split down ideological lines, Kennedy has often (but not always) been the deciding vote.  Kennedy is something of a moderate Conservative, so it sometimes can be difficult to predict which way his swing vote will go.  There was a great deal of speculation as to whether, in voting in this case, Kennedy would maintain his long-held belief in the importance of gay rights, or if he would decide that this was an issue left up to the individual states.

In the end, Kennedy decided in favor of same-sex marriage, and he wrote the majority opinion.

Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)
Carlos McKnight of Washington waves a flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, June 26. (Photo courtesy of CNN.com)

With the 2016 race for the Presidency already under way (and, oh man, the election is over a year away and I’m already getting burned out by all of this nonsense) I fully expect that this is going to become yet another major issue.  I’m sure that most of the Republican candidates (how many are we up to at this point?) are already using the Court’s ruling on gay marriage to forecast gloom & doom, fire & brimstone retribution from the Almighty, and the imminent collapse of civilization as we know it.

You know what?  To hell with them and their hate-mongering.

Honestly, why does it matter if gay people marry?  To anyone who genuinely believes that homosexuality is a sin, I ask you this: how exactly does it affect your life if two total strangers who happen to be gay choose to get married?  If you disapprove, well, fine.  You are entitled to your personal opinions.  There are plenty of things in this world that I believe are immoral.  But I do not go around legislating my beliefs.

If two people, two consenting adults, love one another, then why should they not be able to get married?  How is it anyone else’s business?

In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy states:

“The right to marry is fundamental as a matter of history and tradition, but rights come not from ancient sources alone. They rise, too, from a better informed understanding of how constitutional imperatives define a liberty that remains urgent in our own era. Many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here. But when that sincere, personal opposition becomes enacted law and public policy, the necessary consequence is to put the imprimatur of the State itself on an exclusion that soon demeans or stigmatizes those whose own liberty is then denied. Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right.”

Despite what some will claim, marriage is a civil institution, not a religious one.  If you want to be married legally, it must be officiated by a justice of the peace or some other agent of the state.  The Court’s ruling is not going to suddenly force priests and rabbis to conduct gay marriages in their churches and synagogues.  I expect that most gay couples are just going to head down to City Hall and tie the knot there.  So, no, this is not going to impose upon your religious rights.

Honestly, this is a country that is supposed to have separation of church and state.  All the attempts to make gay marriage illegal purely on the basis of faith are a prime example of why religion and politics should not become intertwined.

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy

I find it ironic that the Republican Party of the 21st Century, the so-called “party of small government,” is so often expanding government intrusion into people’s personal lives, deciding who can and cannot marry, passing judgment on sexual behavior, interfering in the decisions that should be made between a patient and a doctor, and so on.  It seems to me that their idea of “small government” is allowing Big Business to operate in the most reckless manner with absolutely no oversight or restraint, while at the same time prying into the private affairs of citizens in order to appease the Religious Right whose votes they so desperately court.

Besides, I am sick of watching bigots cherry-pick Bible verses to justify their intolerance, forcing their narrow-minded views on the whole of society.  This is why I wholeheartedly believe that faith should be a personal matter.

There are so many problems facing the United States: massive income inequality, unemployment, racism, sexism, inadequate access to medical care, pollution, climate change, terrorism and global political instability.  Those are the issues we need to be worried about, not gay marriage.

I have met gay couples who have been together for many years, who have healthy & stable relationships.  And I have met heterosexual couples who simply have no business being married, who have gotten to the point where they hate each other’s guts, and a divorce is probably the only things that is going to keep them from killing one another.  Heterosexuality is absolutely no guarantee that a marriage will work.

My congratulations to the LGBT community on their victory today.  I hope that there be further progress made in obtaining equal protection under the law in the near future.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare

Like many Americans, I was genuinely surprised when it was announced yesterday that the Supreme Court of the United States had, by a vote of 5 to 4, upheld in full President Barack Obama’s expansive overhaul of health care coverage.  Conventional wisdom had predicted that the Court would likely find the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, un-Constitutional.  In particular, it was expected that the individual mandate, requiring that all Americans obtain health coverage or pay a penalty, would be struck down.

What was even more surprising was the identity of the deciding, “swing” vote.  Expectations had been that if Obamacare was upheld, it would be by a narrow 5 to 4 margin, which indeed was the case.  However, it was not Justice Anthony Kennedy who joined the Court’s liberal wing in the decision.  Rather, it was the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts.

Supporters of Obamacare in front of the Supreme Court

To say that Roberts’ decision was surprising would be an understatement.  This is the first time ever since he was appointed to the Supreme Court by George W. Bush in 2006 that Roberts has ever sided with the liberal half in a 5 to 4 decision.  There has been much speculation as to Roberts’ motives.  A possibility lies in the public perception of the Court by the general public over the past dozen years.

Beginning with Bush v. Gore in 2000, and continuing with such high profile, controversial cases as at the Citizens United decision that overturned the McCain-Feingold Act, the Court has made a number of decisions along what appeared to be very political lines.  The court has often been split right down the middle between four liberal and four conservative Justices, with the deciding vote often cast by the moderate Kennedy.  This has led to many to regard the Court as having become overly politicized, as well as ideologically polarized.  Confidence in the Court among many has markedly decreased.

It is quite possible that Chief Justice Roberts has looked upon the declining credibility of the Supreme Court, and that this was one of the major motivating factors in his decision to vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act.  In writing the majority opinion, Roberts solidly framed the Court’s decision solely on its Constitutionality, refusing to make any observations as to the sensibility of the Act, stating “it is not our role to forbid it, or to pass upon its wisdom.”  By his actions, Roberts may have been attempting to demonstrate that the Court is still capable of dispassionate analysis of an issue, rendering decisions on purely legal grounds, rather than political considerations.

It occurred to me that Roberts may very well have taken this course to preserve the integrity of the Court while, at the same time, privately hoping that in the November elections Mitt Romney and the Republicans will gain control of the White House and Congress, and subsequently overturn Obamacare via legislative means.  In other words, perhaps Roberts is attempting to have his cake and eat it too.  I certainly don’t want to ascribe any perfidious motives to Roberts’ actions, but it is always difficult to determine what goes through the minds of politicians.  I doubt we will ever know the full reasoning behind Roberts’ decision unless some decades from now, retired from the Court, he chooses to write his memoirs.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts

In any case, I really do not want to spend too much time focusing on John Roberts’ motivations.  I think it more important to offer up a few thoughts on Obamacare.

Right up front, I will admit that the Affordable Care Act is imperfect.  There is much about it that can be improved.  But, however flawed it is, Obamacare is better than nothing.  It promises to offer coverage to millions of Americans who are currently uninsured.  We live in one of the richest nations in the world, yet so many of our citizens have absolutely no health coverage, no safety net in the event of a medical emergency.  To me, that is unthinkable.

Many have argued that the individual mandate is an unfair burden, a massive government intrusion upon personal rights to force someone to either buy medical insurance or pay a fee, just to help total strangers.  Well, I have news for you: we already do that for other services.  They are known as the police and fire departments.  The majority of us in our lives will, hopefully, not be a victim of a crime or have our house catch on fire.  But we pay taxes to fund the police and firefighters so that when a crime or a fire does occur, there will be resources to respond to that crisis.  It is unthinkable to imagine that only those who can afford to pay for police or fire protection should receive it; that would be the worst kind of selfish Social Darwinism.  So then why should our fellow citizens be deprived of an equally important protection, namely health care coverage?  Are we really so petty & cruel that we would sit back and watch the poor and unemployed suffer & die from medical conditions that can be treated?

For me, access to health insurance has a very personal significance.  I was born with a severe medical condition, and had to have open heart surgery when I was one year old.  If my parents had not possessed health insurance that covered me, I would probably not have received that life-saving treatment.  In addition, in the last ten years I have twice developed cancer, and on both occasions I had to undergo surgery.  Each time this occurred when I was unemployed.  The first time I was fortunately covered under COBRA, which was continuing my insurance from my previous employment.  The second time, I was lucky enough that my parents were able to afford to pay for me to have insurance, albeit at a rather costly monthly premium rate.  If on either of those occasions I had not possessed insurance, well, I don’t know what would have happened.  And the thing is, I am only 36 years old.  I have no idea what other future health problems I might experience.  So I am extremely cognizant of just how crucial it is to possess health insurance.

Watching as Mitt Romney promises to completely eliminate Obamacare if elected President, I am disgusted.  First of all, Romney a hypocrite.  As governor of Massachusetts, he signed into law something very similar to the Affordable Care Act, complete with an individual mandate.  Sorry, but simply I do not buy his excuse that Massachusetts’ law was one that would only work on a state level, and only for that specific state.  It seems to me that the only reason he opposes the Affordable Care Act is because Obama signed it into law.  Second, Romney has not offered any alternatives to the Affordable Care Act.  On the contrary, he proposes to severely cut Medicaid.  Obviously Romney is quite happy to see things remain as they are, to have millions of Americans remain uninsured.  For that reason, and many others, I will not be voting for him.

I am very relieved that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act.  But, at the same time, I am nervous about what will take place in the next several months.  I hope that Obamacare did not survive a Constitutional challenge only to be slain by legislative reversal.