Rowan County, Ky., clerk Kim Davis is in the middle of a legal and media firestorm for declining to issue marriage licenses to gay couples in her county. The courts are coming after her and the media is digging up old divorce records from before she converted to Christianity — it’s starting to look like a Brendan Eich-style witchhunt. The couples could easily drive to another county to get a license, but they want her name on it because tolerance, or something.
So how are the GOP presidential candidates responding?
Carly Fiorina was the first to speak out, and she essentially said that private citizens have greater religious liberty than government officials:
I think that we must protect religious liberties with great passion and be willing to expend a lot of political capital to do so now because it’s clear religious liberty is under assault in many, many ways. Having said that, when you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role. When you are a government employee as opposed to say, an employee of another kind of organization, then in essence, you are agreeing to act as an arm of the government. And, while I disagree with this court’s decision, their actions are clear. And so I think in this particular case, this woman now needs to make a decision that’s [about] conscience: Is she prepared to continue to work for the government, be paid for by the government in which case she needs to execute the government’s will, or does she feel so strongly about this that she wants to severe her employment with the government and go seek employment elsewhere where her religious liberties would be paramount over her duties as as government employee.[…]
Given the role that she’s playing. Given the fact that the government is paying her salary, I think [civil disobedience] is not appropriate. Now that’s my personal opinion. Others may disagree with that, but I think it’s a very different situation for her than someone in a hospital who’s asked to perform an abortion or someone at a florist who’s asked to serve a gay wedding. I think when you’re a government employee, you are put into a different position honestly.
Lindsey Graham called for Davis to resign:
As a public official, comply with the law or resign. … The rule of law is the rule of law. That’s what we are. We are a rule of law nation, and I appreciate her conviction. I support traditional marriage, but she’s accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone. And that’s her choice.
Mike Huckabee, however, said he salutes Davis, and even called her to tell her he was praying for her:
I spoke with Kim Davis this morning to offer my prayers and support. I let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty. She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington. Kim is asking the perfect question: ‘Under what law am I authorized to issue homosexual couples a marriage license?’ That simple question is giving many in Congress a civics lesson that they never got in grade school. The Supreme Court cannot and did not make a law. They only made a ruling on a law. Congress makes the laws. Because Congress has made no law allowing for same sex marriage, Kim does not have the Constitutional authority to issue a marriage license to homosexual couples. Kim is a person of great conviction. When people of conviction fight for what’s right they often pay a price, but if they don’t and we surrender, we will pay a far greater price for bowing to the false God of judicial supremacy. Government is not God. No man — and certainly no unelected lawyer — has the right to redefine the laws of nature or of nature’s God. Five unelected lawyers have abused their power by ruling in favor of a national right to same-sex marriage with no legal precedent and with nothing in our Constitution to back it up. They have violated American’s most fundamental right guaranteed by our Constitution – religious liberty.
Rand Paul was also supportive of Davis, while taking a classic Paul approach to the issue and saying her stance was “part of the American way”:
I think one way to get around the whole idea of what the Supreme Court is forcing on the states is for the states to just get out of the business of giving out licenses. … I do believe everyone has a right to a contract. There never should have been limitations on people of the same sex having contracts. But I do object to the state putting its imprimatur to the specialness of marriage on something that’s different than what most people have defined as marriage for most of history. … I do think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say they believe in something is an important part of the American way.
What I’ve said before is for someone who works in the government has a bit of a different obligation than someone who’s in the private sector or obviously working for educational institutions that’s religiously based or others, but my point is we have to protect religious liberty and people’s ability to be able to practice their religion freely and openly, and of course we have to enforce the law too.
Marco Rubio disagreed, saying the government should respect the religious beliefs of government officials:
We should seek a balance between government’s responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions. While the clerk’s office has a governmental duty to carry out the law, there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office.[…]
Marriage is the most important institution in our society, and I believe it should be between one man and one woman. Our nation was founded on the human right of religious freedom, and our elected leaders have a duty to protect that right by ensuring that no one is forced by the government to violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs about traditional marriage.
Ted Cruz agreed with Rubio, and added that there is a war on faith in this country:
We’ve seen a war on faith break out across our nation, and we must be vigilant to protect the free exercise of religion — a value enshrined in our Constitution. We should make it possible for believers, such as Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, to hold government jobs without having to violate their religious beliefs. We can work together to come up with alternative ways to ensure that government functions are accomplished without infringing on religious liberty.
Bobby Jindal took a bold stance with a Huffington Post reporter:
I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions. I think it’s wrong to force Christian individuals or business owners — we are seeing government today discriminate against whether it’s clerks, florists, musicians or others. I think that’s wrong. I think you should be able to keep your job and follow your conscience. The Founding Fathers put our First Amendment rights in the constitution for a reason. They put religious liberty in there to say that Americans have a right to live according to their beliefs, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I signed the Marriage and Conscience Executive Order in Louisiana saying the state will not discriminate against individuals or businesses that have a traditional view of marriage. Individuals shouldn’t have to choose between their Christian beliefs and keeping their jobs.
Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Rick Perry haven’t publicly commented on the issue yet, but we’ll let you know if/when they do.
Thomas Valentine is a researcher for APIA and a junior at the Franciscan University of Steubenville.