In case you haven’t heard, Rowan County Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it violates her Christian beliefs.
I appreciate Davis’s religious-inspired convictions about marriage. As long as religious liberty is part of the American ideal, she should be able to promote and practice these views without government persecution. I understand her moral dilemma and realize that the Obergfell decision on same-sex marriage has caused much anxiety and confusion for the defenders of traditional marriage. Davis is a woman of faith who is trying to find the best way to honor her deeply-held religious convictions.
But I don’t think Davis has much legal ground to stand on here. I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will eventually need to hear a case that pits same-sex marriage against religious liberty, but I don’t think this will be that case. Davis works for the state and thus must enforce the laws of the state. She does not work for a church or a religious organization.
As a historian, the Davis case leads me back to a question I have been thinking about for a long time: Is America a Christian Nation? Even if one argues that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, it is very hard to make the case that it still is a Christian nation today. The United States does not privilege Christianity and thus (in the wake of Obergfell) does not privilege traditional Christian views on marriage. In this sense, the United States is a secular nation. Many of my fellow evangelicals will cringe when I use that term. By secular I do not mean that religion cannot contribute to the public good or should in some way be eradicated from American life. I am simply saying that religion is not the basis for the laws of the United States.
Mark Silk has some interesting thoughts on the Davis case at his blog, “Spiritual Politics.” Here is a taste:
ADDENDUM: Since I wrote this post earlier this morning, Davis has been found in contempt of the Supreme Court and arrested. It seems as if she had one of two option. She could either resign as county clerk or go to jail in an act of civil disobedience. She has chosen the latter.