I felt the need to watch A Man for All Seasons again. I pull it out whenever some high-profile lawyer validates the low opinion so many people have of us, as when Gloria Allred acts as a mouthpiece for the Mistress of the Moment.
But this time, I wanted a reminder of what it really means to take a conscientious stand based on principle, and not on some twisted idea of civil disobedience.
Obviously, I’m referring to Kim Davis, the Apostolic Christian Democrat (Didn’t know she was a Dem? Shocking!) who still serves as clerk of court in Rowan County, Kentucky. Anyone not living under the Rock of Peter these past couple of weeks knows that Davis defied the Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage and refused to do her job. What was that job? Purely and simply, she was charged with issuing marriage licenses. The job description didn’t tell her to issue marriage licenses to the people who had passed her biblical muster. It didn’t require an anatomical examination before issuing those licenses. It just required her to stamp, sign, and deliver them.
To the delight of evangelical Christians and the politicians who pander to them, Davis cited her religious beliefs in refusing to follow the law.
And the circus began.
Let me get this out of the way for those who’ve never read me in the past. I’m as opposed to same-sex marriage as anyone could possibly be, with the possible exception of the Westboro Baptists. I find Anthony Kennedy’s shallow jurisprudential pandering to societal evolution to be shameful, embarrassing and a sign that Supreme Court justices ain’t what they used to be.
And it’s not just the lawyer in me that is angered by the decision. As a conservative Catholic, I strongly reject the idea that a sacrament can be hijacked by secular high priests of “tolerance.” You may say that marriage is a civil matter, but an awful lot of Americans who don’t drag their knuckles on the ground would disagree.
So I walk with Kim Davis — fully upright — on the underlying merits.
But just as much as I resent the fact that same-sex unions are now the law of the land, I respect that law and this land exponentially more than my personal vision of marriage.
So the deliberate flouting of the law by a woman who had other options is infuriating. It is exactly what Bruce Haines of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, did when he issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples when the law prohibited it. It is exactly that attitude of lawlessness that so many conservatives attributed to President Obama with his executive orders on immigration. It smacks of rank hypocrisy to attack liberals when they color outside of the lines but then forgive conservatives because we have a philosophical kinship with them.
What Kim Davis has done is to make it harder to convince those who disagree with us on underlying principles to at least respect our right to be given a perimeter of faith in which to operate, without encroachment.
That’s why I felt the need to watch A Man for All Seasons. Thomas More, patron saint of attorneys with a soul (no cracks, no jokes, no sarcasm, please) did not invite his tragic destiny. When faced with taking a public vow that clashed with his private beliefs, he resigned his office as chancellor of England. He tried desperately to use the greatest tool of our trade — his clever mind — to avoid being trapped between public duty and personal integrity. It was only when he was forced by Henry VIII to take a vow recognizing the king as the head of the Church in England, thereby betraying our shared Roman Catholic faith, that he signed his own death warrant.
That is what is called sacrificing everything for your beliefs. The Kim Davises of the world parade their faith in front of us like some antidote to secular persecution, which is ridiculous. There is a place for God and a place for Caesar, and creating a false battle between the two is as much a sin as issuing licenses to same-sex couples when your faith forbids it.
Kim Davis is no Thomas More. And as he rises up, glorious in memory, so should she be forgotten and disowned by all Christians who cherish their faith and the freedom that makes it possible.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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