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devil duck

To Ms. Davis, and all the other clerks and judges in the same fight

You've received a great deal of attention, both positive and negative, for applying your faith-based conscience to your job. There's nothing wrong with applying your conscience, and all the experiences that have made you who you are, to every part of your life, including your job. Indeed, that's an admirable quality, and probably part of what got you elected to your office in the first place.

But you've been confused by a homonym -- two different concepts that happen to share the same spelling and pronunciation, like the noun "dog"[1] meaning a four-legged animal and the verb "dog"[2] meaning pester or bother. As County Clerk, you're probably called upon to issue dog licenses; when you do so, are you authorizing the licensee to pester and bother people, or to own and keep a four-legged animal?

In this case, the confusion is between "marriage"[1] in the eyes of God and "marriage"[2] in the eyes of the State. These two concepts have seldom been identical, but they overlap enough to be confusing. A couple married by a priest/minister/rabbi/imam/whatever who hasn't been empowered by the State to conduct marriages are married[1] but not married[2]. A couple married by a justice of the peace are married[2] but perhaps not married[1].

Members of minority religions have had to accept this fact for centuries. The Catholic Church says (said?) that a person who has been married and divorced cannot be married again; the U.S. Government and most or all of its States disagree. Islam and the Church of Latter-Day Saints, from their founding, allowed and even encouraged polygamy; the U.S. Government and most or all of its States disagree. You've been fortunate, most of your life, that as a member of the local-majority religion, your religious notion of marriage matched the legal one pretty closely, but now that's no longer true.

Fortunately, nobody is asking you to state that a couple can be married[1] in the eyes of God, which is a matter of faith-based conscience; you're being asked, as part of your job, to certify that they can be married[2] in the eyes of the State, which is a simple, objective, legal question.

If you insist that legal marriage[2] in your county must conform to your religious/conscientious notion of marriage[1], you are also fighting for the right of a Catholic clerk to refuse marriage licenses to people either of whom has been married before, and the right of a Mormon clerk to issue marriage licenses to people who are still married to someone else, and the right of a racist judge to refuse to marry people of different races, and the right of a Dexterian judge to refuse to marry left-handed people (remember, the courts have long held themselves incompetent to second-guess whether someone's claimed religious views really are religious views, so anything goes here). You are saying that the State and Federal governments have no place defining marriage at all, and everything depends on whoever happens to hold a local office this month. Are you sure you want to go there?


The clearest analysis of this conflict I've ever read. Thank you. Now, the whole problem would be solved if we got rid of marriage (2) and just let people pair up as nature and/or their sub-culture suggest... i.e. get government out of marriage. The core reason for government involvement in marriage is to hold men responsible for their (probable) children and to assure support for women during their vulnerable child bearing and rearing years. We now have better ways of identifying fathers and can still hold them responsible for their children.