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Chris Honoré: Religious freedom and a county clerk

I often forget that we live in a very religious nation. On occasion, I’m reminded that a significant number of our citizens are steeped in faith, so much so that they fail to make the distinction between church and state, forgetting that America is fundamentally a secular nation, while insisting that our laws and policies mirror their beliefs (right to life at inception).

According to a survey by YouGov.com, 76 percent of Americans believe in the existence of God and half of those have done something because God told them to. For many, faith is woven inextricably into their lives.

This has become evident over the last two weeks when Rowan county Kentucky clerk, Kim Davis, refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Her rationale: God’s law, prohibiting marriage equality, took precedence over the recent Supreme Court decision of last June that same-sex marriage was now the law of the land.

It’s been reported that Davis is a born-again member of the Apostolic church and presumably has based her belief on Christian scripture, specifically Leviticus 18:22, which states that homosexuality is an “abomination.” Hence  Davis, citing religious freedom, said she should not be compelled to grant licenses to those gay couples. Her stance is righteous, she says, and indeed she found no shortage of supporters, some holding up signs citing Acts 5:29, which declares that man should obey God rather then men. But then, Leviticus 21:20 also says that no one with a defect in sight may approach the altar of God. I note that Davis wears glasses.

It seems Davis is not alone in her position. Remarkably, in Kentucky, 60 of the 120 county clerks signed a petition to the governor saying they also objected to issuing marriage licenses to gay people on religious grounds and they should not be compelled to do so, despite the fact that, like Davis, they are government employees and mandated to carry out the law, regardless of their personal beliefs.

This seems so obvious. Yet, remarkably, the country is split over this issue, with 49 percent supporting Davis’ position while 46 percent disagree with her. In truth, Davis and her followers define religious freedom as possessing the right to cherry-pick which laws they will agree to uphold and which they will not, while citing a literal interpretation of scripture as their ultimate defense, obviating the fact that we are a nation of laws and not of men.

What if it were contrary to Davis' religious beliefs to issue a license to a couple of mixed race? Hasn’t scripture been used historically to justify egregious violations of peoples’ civil rights (marriage equality is but one example)? For more than a century, slavery and Jim Crow were justified with unshakable conviction from countless pulpits, citing Leviticus 25:44.

Once again we find ourselves at the beginning of a presidential campaign, hence Republican candidates Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz took their campaigns to Rowan County to lend their support to Davis, who was jailed for contempt of court and held at the Carter County Detention Center. For Cruz and Huckabee it was pandering of the worst kind, with Huckabee suggesting that the Supreme Court should only be obeyed “if it was right.” “Right” to be defined by whatever religious principle he happened to be following. He reiterated that the Supreme Court was not the Supreme Being. Steve King, an Iowa Republican, tweeted that Davis should be given the “Rosa Parks award.” Of course, of the 16 (give or take) Republican candidates competing for the presidential nomination, the majority are unequivocally against marriage equality and disagree with the recent court decision.

As an aside, apparently it’s not over until it’s over: as reported by The Associated Press, Marion County, Ore., Circuit Judge Vance Day stated he would not perform same-sex marriage. In Granbury, Texas, Hood County Clerk Katie Land was compelled by a federal court to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In Alabama, some 10-15 counties have closed their marriage license operations. In North Carolina more than 30 magistrates refuse to perform same-sex unions.

And so it goes.

Chris Honoré lives in Ashland.