Federal court Judge David L. Bunning ruled against Rowan County Kentucky clerk of courts Kim Davis, Wednesday. Davis had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the June 26th US Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision. The main points are that Davis’ religious freedom isn’t taken away in doing her sworn duty as clerk but her ‘no marriage licenses’ policy injures all residents of Rowan county.
The 28 page decision is full of delicious statements and rebuttals against Kim Davis’ lame arguments against doing her sworn duty. Here are some highlights:
Davis makes much of the fact that Plaintiffs are able to travel, but she fails to address the one question that lingers in the Court’s mind. Even if Plaintiffs are able to obtain licenses elsewhere, why should they be required to? The state has long entrusted county clerks with the task of issuing marriage licenses. It does not seem unreasonable for Plaintiffs, as Rowan County voters, to expect their elected official to perform her statutorily assigned duties. And yet, that is precisely what Davis is refusing to do. Much like the statutes at issue in Loving and Zablocki, Davis’ “no marriage licenses” policy significantly discourages many Rowan County residents from exercising their right to marry and effectively disqualifies others from doing so.
When pressed to articulate a compelling state interest served by her “no marriage licenses” policy, Davis responded that it serves the State’s interest in protecting her religious freedom. The State certainly has an obligation to “observe the basic free exercise rights of its employees,” but this is not the extent of its concerns. Marchi v. Bd. of Coop. Educ. Serv. of Albany, 173 F.3d 469, 476 (2d. Cir. 1999). In fact, the State has some priorities that run contrary to Davis’ proffered state interest. Chief among these is its interest in preventing Establishment Clause violations. See U.S. Const. amend. I (declaring that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion”). Davis has arguably committed such a violation by openly adopting a policy that promotes her own religious convictions at the expenses of others.8 In such situations, “the scope of the employees’ rights must [ ] yield to the legitimate interest of governmental employer in avoiding litigation.” Marchi, 173 F.3d at 476.
The Court must adapt this test slightly because Davis’ claim focuses on her right not to speak. In this context, the first inquiry is whether Davis refused to speak (i.e. refused to issue marriage licenses) as a citizen on a matter of public concern. The logical answer to this question is no, as the average citizen has no authority to issue marriage licenses. Davis is only able to issue these licenses, or refuse to issue them, because she is the Rowan County Clerk. Because her speech (in the form of her refusal to issue marriage licenses) is a product of her official duties, it likely is not entitled to First Amendment protection. The Court therefore concludes that Davis is unlikely to succeed on her compelled speech claim.
Davis contends that “[c]ompelling all individuals who have any connection with the issuance of marriage licenses . . . to authorize, approve, and participate in that act against their sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage, without providing accommodation, amounts to an improper religious test for holding (or maintaining) public office.” (Doc. # 29 at 20). The Court must again point out that the act of issuing a marriage license to a samesex couple merely signifies that the couple has met the legal requirements to marry. It is not a sign of moral or religious approval. The State is not requiring Davis to express a particular religious belief as a condition of public employment, nor is it forcing her to surrender her free exercise rights in order to perform her duties. Thus, it seems unlikely that Davis will be able to establish a violation of the Religious Test Clause.
Although Davis focuses on the Religious Test Clause, the Court must draw her attention to the first half of Article VI, Clause § 3. It requires all state officials to swear an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution. Davis swore such an oath when she took office on January 1, 2015. However, her actions have not been consistent with her words. Davis has refused to comply with binding legal jurisprudence, and in doing so, she has likely violated the constitutional rights of her constituents. When such “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. ” Obergefell, 135 S. Ct. at 2602. Such policies simply cannot endure.
Davis again argues that the Beshear directive substantially burdens her religious freedom without serving a compelling state interest. The record in this case suggests that the burden is more slight. As the Court has already pointed out, Davis is simply being asked to signify that couples meet the legal requirements to marry. The State is not asking her to condone same-sex unions on moral or religious grounds, nor is it restricting her from engaging in a variety of religious activities. Davis remains free to practice her Apostolic Christian beliefs. She may continue to attend church twice a week, participate in Bible Study and minister to female inmates at the Rowan County Jail. She is even free to believe that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, as many Americans do. However, her religious convictions cannot excuse her from performing the duties that she took an oath to perform as Rowan County Clerk. The Court therefore concludes that Davis is unlikely to suffer a violation of her free exercise rights under Kentucky Constitution.
I noticed today that even after the Federal court order, Kim Davis is still refusing to issue marriage licenses in Rowan county.
She might want to check with Judge Roy Moore to see how that goes.