- Timothy D. Easley
Multiple Republican presidential candidates are lining up behind a county clerk in Kentucky who is refusing to issue marriage licenses due to her opposition to same-sex marriage.
Kim Davis, a clerk in Rowan County, is facing repercussions from the state for defying the Supreme Court’s order to give marriage licenses to gay couples.
Rowan has said that under “God’s authority,” she will continue to deny issuing any marriage licenses. She has faced backlash from all sides, but some Republican presidential candidates have quickly rallied to her defense.
Perhaps the most vehement defender over the past few days has been presidential candidate and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R).
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Thursday, Huckabee questioned the authority of the Supreme Court to make decisions relating to marriage. He argued that the court actually does not have any power to weigh in on the issue.
“The only law she is following is the Kentucky law, which by constitutional amendment defines marriage as a man and a woman,” Huckabee said. “The specific form that she is required to fill out for a marriage license specifically requires male and female.”
“Now if the Kentucky legislature decides that they agree with the Supreme Court, and they change the laws of Kentucky, that’s a whole different thing,” he added. “We’re bordering on judicial tyranny here.”
The former pastor then railed at the justices who ruled in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide earlier this summer.
“It is the interpretation of five unelected lawyers on the court – that’s the way John Roberts referred to them in his scathing dissent, which was absolutely brilliant,” Huckabee said.
Before the order was issued earlier this summer, Huckabee predicted that religious Americans would resist the court’s decision.
But despite Huckabee’s assertions, states can’t simply ignore the Supreme Court’s decision just because they don’t like it. The 1958 Supreme Court decision Cooper v. Aaron specifically says that states have to enforce the high court’s decisions even if they don’t agree with them. (That case was about school integration, another Supreme Court mandate that some states tried to avoid.)
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Still, other candidates, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), made the argument that the government should not be forcing Davis to violate her religious convictions – even though she is a government employee.
“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,” Rubio told The New York Times in a statement.
“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.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had a similar argument.
“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,” he said in a statement.
Many advocates and same-sex marriage opponents see religious-freedom laws and protections as the next major battle for gay rights. Already this year, several states have stirred controversy over embattled religious-freedom measures that critics say would have allowed businesses to deny services to same sex couples.
Some candidates are essentially refashioning previous arguments about gay marriage.
Though he admitted that he supports free-speech protests, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) suggested to Boston Herald Radio earlier this week that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all.
“People who do stand up and are making a stand to say that they believe in something is an important part of the American way,” Paul said. “I think one way to get around the whole idea of what the Supreme Court is forcing on the states is for states just to get out of the business of giving out licenses.”
But other GOP candidates have chosen to stay out of the fray.
After saying that she supports religious liberty, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said the clerk has a “different role” because she works for the government. Fiorina said she should issue marriage licenses.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) also said that Davis’ government duty supersedes any religious conviction she holds.
“As a public official, comply with the law or resign,” Graham said in an interview earlier this week.