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You lost. Now do your job.

morehead10n-1-webThe U.S. Supreme Court on Monday denied a request by Rowan County, Kentucky, county clerk Kim Davis for a stay of lower court orders requiring her to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. She can still pursue her appeal of those orders to the Supreme Court, but she must now comply with those orders or face court sanctions, which could include fines or jail time.

(As an elected official, she also could be impeached by Kentucky’s legislature, but the state’s GOP legislators are sympathetic to her cause and won’t do that. Two couples, one gay and one straight, who were denied marriage licenses by her office instead are pursuing their legal remedies in federal courts.)

This isn’t about gay marriage, religious freedom, or any other issue of conscience. It’s about rule of law. No public official, whether elected or appointed, has any right or authority to substitute his/her personal beliefs for the law, and anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t belong in public service. But unless Kentucky legislators remove her, which they won’t, there’s no way to remove her from office before the next election, and the voters might well re-elect her. So a federal judge’s options are limited to jailing or fining her until she complies.

And, of course, the couples could sue her for civil damages for violating their civil rights. Rowan County taxpayers likely will get stuck with the legal bills and judgments, but hey, they elected her (although they probably didn’t know what they were getting; Davis’ mother held the job for 37 years, and voters probably figured they were simply voting for continuity when the elected the daughter last fall).

Now, about this civil disobedience thing. America has a long and often-noble tradition of civil disobedience, but there are different kinds of defiance, and not all of them are noble. Davis stands for bigotry and ignorance, not our best ideals; she’s George Wallace in the school house door, not a Minuteman on the Concord Bridge. In other words, her defiance isn’t the kind we should admire or support. Far from being some kind of hero, she’s violating the civil rights of citizens she was elected to serve.

Update: On Tuesday morning, a federal judge ordered Davis and her entire staff to appear in court Thursday morning for a contempt hearing. On Thursday morning, the judge ordered Davis taken into custody and jailed for contempt of court, after she reiterated her refusal to issue marriage licenses. In contempt cases, the person usually remains in jail until s/he either complies with the court’s order, or the judge concludes the person isn’t going to comply and further incarceration will serve no useful purpose; in other words, jail time for contempt is indefinite but not perpetual.

Photo: It’s put up, pay up, or lockup time for Kim Davis.

 


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