Forum editorial: A lesson for ND in Kentucky
County officials in North Dakota should be paying close attention to the goings on in Kentucky regarding a county clerk's refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. A Kentucky federal judge found Kim Davis in contempt and jailed her after...
County officials in North Dakota should be paying close attention to the goings on in Kentucky regarding a county clerk’s refusal to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. A Kentucky federal judge found Kim Davis in contempt and jailed her after she refused to issue licenses, and even had ordered her deputies to refuse licenses to gay couples. Deputies have since said they will obey the law, but Davis has been adamant her religious convictions take precedence over her responsibilities as a public county clerk.
Davis is wrong. The federal judge, adhering to the law of the land as determined in June by the U.S. Supreme Court, is right. County clerks take oaths of office to uphold the U.S. Constitution and their state constitutions. There is no wiggle room in those oaths for the imposition of personal religious beliefs in executing their secular duties, nor should there be. If Davis, or any county clerk anywhere (including county recorders in North Dakota), refuse to do their jobs because of strongly held religious beliefs, they have two options: resign or assign gay marriage license duties to deputies.
At least three North Dakota counties have gone with the latter option. Recorders got approval from county commissions to shift gay marriage license duties to clerks. Thus far there have been no problems. Nonetheless, the underlying principle cannot be dismissed. If a public official can get away with enforcing some laws and kissing off others, the slope gets slippery quickly. Shifting a function of an office to a deputy clerk because of the clerk’s religious sentiments is a step onto that slope.
North Dakota counties might want to be very careful about adopting a “solution” that seems like an invitation to legal challenges.
Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and newspaper’s Editorial Board.