Saturday, September 5, 2015

Conscientious Rejection

No, I will not issue you a marriage license. Now leave me alone.

Her name is Kim Davis, and what she's doing is seriously messing with my head.

As a county clerk, part of her job is issuing marriage licenses to any applicants who meet a short list of requirements: be at least 18, bring your driver's license to apply, swear to not being married to anyone else, and don't be more closely related than second cousins. Being straight is no longer on that list.

Kim Davis wishes it still was. She'd really rather not issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

I know something about wishes. I wish summer was a week longer. I wish I had a classroom of my own to teach music in. I wish I didn't have to drive 35 minutes to get to work. I wish I could afford to travel more. I wish, I wish, I wish...

As the saying goes, "If wishes were fishes, we'd all swim in riches." Since they're not, we don't. (Though given the state of the world's fisheries, that adage may soon be obsolete.) We suck it up and face reality. I use podcasts to get me through my commute, I focus on loving my students rather than my lack of a classroom, I make the most of the travel I get to do, and I (most of the time) milk all the relaxation and fulfillment I can from the vacations I have.

Kim Davis, on the other hand, has decided to simply resist change. Her Christian faith, she says, does not approve of gay marriage, so she's taking a stand against it in her secular, public sector position by refusing to do that part of her job that offends her religious sensibilities. Gay couples wishing to be married have appealed the decision, and every court, right up to the Supreme Court, has told Kim Davis to comply with the laws governing her position. In recognition of her principles, they have offered a compromise: simply delegate the job of issuing marriage licenses to one of her employees who is not opposed to gay marriage. Davis has refused. And so now she's in jail, licenses are being issued, and the radical religious right has a new martyr to rally behind.

I'm seriously conflicted about this. If you know where I stand on this issue--and have stood at least as far back as 1991, possibly longer (my memory on this issue gets cloudy before that)--you might wonder why I'm not rubbing my hands with glee as the jail door slams shut. And you'd be partly right: I have absolutely no sympathy for the reactionary views Kim Davis holds with respect to marriage equality, nor do I agree one whit with the conservative legal team that put her up to this. This phase of the culture war is over, and the homophobes lost. Kim Davis is their George Wallace, blocking entrance to public facilities with his body as he screams "Segregation yesterday, segregation today, segregation forever!" That didn't end well for George Wallace, and it's not ending well for Kim Davis.

And yet, there's a part of me that has to admire her courage. She's set herself up as a conscientious objector, one who continues to stand on principle even in the face of legal penalty. Check out my many rants about the problems with the United Methodist Church, and you'll see I've often appealed to the avowed moral sensibilities of Methodist administrators to stand on what they believe, whatever the penalty may be, rather than paying lip service to church laws they claim to oppose. Skirting the rules, handing off a duty you disagree with to an underling, or even resigning are the coward's way out. True idealists go to prison for their beliefs, as many of my friends in the peace movement have done. They risk their ordinations and even membership in their church to perform gay weddings. They voluntarily live in poverty rather than pay taxes to support the military-industrial complex. They are beaten and tear-gassed for protesting inequity and injustice. Kim Davis believes so deeply in preserving marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution that the only way for progress to happen in her county is to lock her up.

I can't fault her for her conviction. I just wish she had better taste in causes to defend.

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