*Note: Kim Davis is the Rowan County, Kentucky clerk who stopped issuing marriage licenses after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. She has cited her Christian beliefs as the reason she cannot issue marriage licenses (specifically for same-sex couples) and considers having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples a violation of her religious beliefs. She has been ordered by at least two federal courts to start issuing marriage licenses but still refuses and has kept the Rowan County clerk office closed on numerous occasions. She is now appealing to the Supreme Court.
Dear Ms. Davis,
I would like to tell you a story. Several months ago, a former co-worker asked me to interview a local nonprofit for a women’s empowerment and spiritual magazine that she was starting. I had worked with her before, and I loved her, mostly because of her compassion and energy but also for the guidance and support she had given me when we were both working in a negative work environment. I had written articles for her before and looked forward to contributing to her magazine again, not least because I would be paid for my work and I quite needed the money.
However, the night before the scheduled interview, I discovered that the nonprofit, an organization dedicated to bringing women out of abusive and addictive relationships and compelled by the Christian spirit, was also vehemently homophobic. If a woman had had a “homosexual lifestyle” before coming to the center, she would be instructed to renounce said lifestyle and relationships because that would be the only way she could find salvation and a place in the center. Unsurprisingly, many women did renounce that lifestyle, find God, and were embraced with open arms.
When I learned about this caveat, I was horrified. Not only do I not believe that homosexuality is either a sin or a choice, but I am a staunch supporter of the queer community. I also have a girlfriend of almost three years whom I love deeply. It would therefore not have been right for me to carry out this interview. I couldn’t support the organization and couldn’t condone their actions. I knew that if I tried to interview them, I wouldn’t do the organization or my friend’s magazine justice, and I couldn’t in good conscience carry out the interview. I had to excuse myself.
I called my friend and told her that I couldn’t do the interview. I wasn’t explicit in my reasoning because I didn’t feel comfortable being explicit. My friend may have guessed but had never been told of my same-sex relationship, and I didn’t want her to think I was objecting to the organization’s or her religion. She was gracious and told me that she would do the interview. I apologized several times and that was it.
I haven’t heard from my friend since then. It’s been almost six months, and she hasn’t called, texted, emailed, offered me another article, or responded to my overtures. Because of my moral objection, I lost a friend, a coworker, a writing venue, and money that I desperately needed. But I had not violated my conscious.
Like me, you need to make a hard choice. You need to decide which is more important: keeping your job or following your religious convictions. This is not an easy situation to be in, and it is much more complicated than my choice, which I only agonized over for a few minutes. There is so much at stake. You have over $80,000 a year, being able to take care of yourself and your family, millions of people scrutinizing your every move, millions of Christians and queer people depending on you, and your religion on the line. You have had strangers comment negatively on every aspect of your life from your marriages to your speech patterns to your appearance. Not only is your choice hard but so is your position.
Nevertheless, you must make a hard choice, and I’m afraid “keeping your job but continuing to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses” is not an option. As a civil servant, it is your responsibility to serve your community as the Constitution, your oath of office, and even the Bible would command you to do. You must, as a hazard of your job, become both more and less than you are. You must be the voice of our entire nation, and you must fairly and justly serve every citizen. This will mean that you will occasionally have to do things you find distasteful like giving same-sex couples marriage licenses. I’m sorry that you dislike that duty. I’m sorry that it makes you uncomfortable. I’m sorry that you think doing so will violate your religious convictions. But it is your job, and you need to serve your constituents fairly, even if you don’t approve of them. This is not just my opinion but part of the law, which states, “A public servant is guilty of official misconduct in the first degree when, with intent to… deprive another person of a benefit, knowingly… refrains from performing a duty imposed upon him by law.” Therefore, you must treat all citizens as equals under the law.
Unfortunately, if you are unable to do this, you must resign. I hope that you don’t have to. I understand that your job is quite well paid ($80,000 a year, I believe), which is almost twice as much as the median household income in your county. What an incredible boon that salary must be to you, your family, and your community. What an incredibly opportunity for you, especially given Appalachia’s myriad problems and general low income. It would be hard to have to leave that job, especially if you feel passionate about your work and your coworkers. So I hope you don’t have to. But what else can you do if you will not fulfill your duties? If you will not allow your county’s business to continue? If you will not serve your constituents faithfully and fairly? What is the point of you staying in position that you morally object to? Doing so wears on the soul.
If you cannot be objective in executing your office, I know there are other positions that would welcome you with open arms. There are many religious-based non-profits that need good, solid workers with your religious convictions. There are many religious-based private schools that need teachers and counselors with your religious convictions. There are even religious-based advocacy groups like your own counsel that would welcome another staunch Christian. There are so many places that would welcome, support, and encourage a person of such strong religious convictions. You have options, Ms. Davis, and you can find a job that better fits your viewpoint and moral needs. This job is not your only option. You have others.
Your constituents do not have another option. They live, work, and pay taxes in Rowan County. They should be able to visit their county clerk to marry in Rowan County. They only live in one county, they only pay taxes in one county, and they only have one county clerk: you.
Sometimes, we must make hard, terrible choices. These choices will have consequences, as all choices do. Nonetheless, we must make them. So you must decide: which is more important, keeping your current job or keeping your current religious convictions? Either decision will cost you, but you still must make one. You cannot keep denying people their constitutional right to marry. As the highest court in the land declared two months ago, every American citizen has the right to marry regardless of sexual orientation. You need to let them have this right.
I hope that you will make a decision soon. I hope that you will realize that your obstinacy and refusal to make a hard choice are hurting people – not just same-sex couples but straight couples, the average citizen, your entire county, and people all across the nation. I hope that you will take this moment to further your compassion for others and to learn what to means to serve others even at your expense. I think if you can do that others will see you as an example and a beacon of hope and love. I think they will follow you. I think that you can create change and betterment.
But first I need you to make a hard choice.
A Fellow Kentuckian