With all the focus on Kim Davis and her crusade to stop same-sex marriage in her county, we should not overlook the fact that similar strategies are being used by other regions in the US.
In North Carolina, 32 of the state’s 672 magistrates have excused themselves from marrying couples altogether, once a duty of the office, to avoid marrying same-sex couples. Magistrates opted out as early as June, when a new religious objection law was passed. The law allows magistrates to refuse to perform a marriage, but once they do so they are then barred for performing any other marriage for six months.
In Alabama, 10 of the state’s 67 counties stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely, according to LGBT rights advocates Human Rights Campaign. Some of those recusals stem from Alabama judges’ refusal to issue marriage licenses that began before the US supreme court’s legalization of gay marriage this June.
Similarly, a religious objection law in Utah has allowed county clerks to stop solemnizing marriages, but still requires them to issue marriage licenses. That law has been praised for its balance of religious objections and LGBT rights, though it still stopped clerk’s office solemnization in two counties.
So is this practice of opting out from performing all marriages legal? Likely not.
[Columbia Law School law professor Katherine] Franke believes North Carolina’s law is unconstitutional, and some courts appear to agree that the practice is not legally supported.
An August opinion from the Ohio supreme court found: “A judge may not decline to perform all marriages in order to avoid marrying same-sex couples based on his or her personal, moral, or religious beliefs.”
We should not forget that this dead-end strategy has been tried before when in 1976, almost a decade after the US Supreme Court ruled that bans on inter-racial marriage were unconstitutional, magistrates in Winston Salem, North Carolina refused to marry Carol Ann Figueroa and Thomas Person because she was white and he was black. The couple refused to go to a different jurisdiction and it took three years of litigation before they were allowed to get married in the town in which they lived.
What is going to sink this “I won’t be involved in any marriage gay or straight and so I am not discriminating” policy is that, apart from being likely to be against the law, the straight community is eventually going to get fed up with the inconvenience they are being subjected to over an issue that does not affect them in the least.
The town of Morehead, where Kim Davis works, is interesting because it is a college town, the home of Morehead State University. Its 11,000 students and 7,000 rural Appalachian residents have had to deal with the classic town-gown clash when a more liberal university culture is surrounded by a conservative community.
In 2013, the city council approved a Fairness Ordinance that extended discrimination protections to gay, bisexual and transgender people for employment and housing after several gay and lesbian students were denied off-campus housing, according to a spokeswoman for the Rowan County Rights Coalition.
But cracks are starting to show in the relationships that have built up over the years. Several business owners in Morehead declined to discuss the issue for fear of upsetting either side.
Nashia Fife, secretary-elect of the county’s rights coalition, said nerves are fraying. “It’s being seen as personal and it’s really not.”
The day after Davis was jailed, her husband Joe called for a boycott of the university because of its embrace of gays and lesbians.
Morehead State President Wayne Andrews said elected officials should obey the law and do their jobs.
I wonder how long it will be before the residents of that town get fed up with Davis for polarizing the community with her grandstanding.
These types of actions should be seen as the last-ditch maneuverings, in which opponents of granting equal rights to the LGBT community, rather than accepting the inevitable gracefully, are going to go down kicking and screaming, throwing up one petty roadblock after another in order to validate their sense of being persecuted for their beliefs.