There are times when our conscious or moral beliefs may interfere with our jobs. When I prosecuted crimes in Baltimore as an Assistant State’s Attorney, I was opposed to the death penalty. I still oppose the death penalty. At that time, there was no moratorium on the death penalty in Maryland. And there were a few death penalty cases. Fortunately, I never had to make a decision over my conscious or my job. If it came down to me having to choose, I would have asked to be removed from the felony unit where death penalty trials occur to another unit within the office.
However, I was not the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City—the chief prosecutor. If I had been my boss over the entire office, I would have no choice except to try a case that warranted under the law—the death penalty or step down from my elected position.
Kim Davis, the Kentucky Rowan County court clerk who refuses to provide marriage certificates for same sex couples took an oath to do her job under the law. The law of the land announced by the U.S. Supreme Court affords marriage equality and marriage licenses for all, including same sex couples. And her job as the Chief Clerk of Rowan County elected by the voters demands that she do her job—despite what her religious preference, reasons or conscious dictates.
Many people have held religious, conscious or other beliefs that are counter to the law. Acting out on those beliefs in contravention of the law is a problem—a criminal one. During the Civil Rights movement, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which forbid discrimination in the hiring, firing and promotion on the basis of race. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to prohibit race discrimination in the right to vote that was afforded blacks in 1870.
After the passing of many civil rights laws, individuals still attempted to deny the rights to blacks afforded by the law. In 1963 Alabama Governor George Wallace stood on the steps of the University of Alabama attempting to forbid two black students from entering to enter. His cry was the same as Kim Davis. He cried segregation now and segregation forever to preclude integration affording civil rights to include African Americans. Kim Davis cries for the same reason. She cites her conscious in the same way that George Wallace did. To Wallace, prohibiting blacks from entering Alabama institutions and affording them civil rights was a moral one. He was wrong. Kim Davis is also wrong.
When one’s morality is against the law, it demands that choices be made. The choice for Kim Davis is to give up her Clerk of the Court position. The choice is not for her to remove her name off of the marriage licenses of the same sex couples—as her office did at her request. In doing so, she is trying to circumvent the law.
The case should be brought back before the federal court for clarity. This time, the federal court should clearly advise that the Rowan County clerk’s office is in contempt for its refusal to provide the same marriage licenses afforded to all couples with the name of the Clerk of the Court who presides over the Clerk’s office.
The law does not need to change for Kim Davis. Kim Davis in her elected position as Clerk of Rowan County needs to change for the law. The law should not bend to suit the conscious of Kim Davis.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor.