As most of you now know, Mrs. Kimberly Jean Bailey Davis was elected County Clerk for Rowan County, Kentucky, back in 2014. I’m sure that was a great and momentous day for Mrs. Davis, but that’s not what made national news. The nation was introduced to Mrs. Davis when she refused to issue marriage licenses for same-sex “couples” who applied to be married in Rowan County following Obergefell vs. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26, 2015 ruling effectively “legalizing” same-sex unions while at the same time overturning the prior SCOTUS decision, Baker vs. Nelson, that dismissed a similar attempt to recognize a “right” to same-sex “marriage.”
And remember: issuing these licenses included Mrs. Davis, as County Clerk, signing her name on the documents. This, in her mind, would be giving tacit approval of something that is intrinsically immoral. That she was not prepared to do.
Mrs. Davis, who by her own admission was married four times in the past, and did not lead a morally upright life back then, had converted to Christ in an “apostolic Pentecostal” community back in 2011 and reformed her life. It would be her faith in Christ and commitment to follow the Bible’s teachings that would lead her to declare she could not issue these licenses to same-sex couples. At least, that would be her main reason. She and her attorney have given two central reasons for her decision, the first of which I will mention here has nothing to do with her new-found faith.
First, her attorney argued SCOTUS did not, and does not make the law; it interprets the law. Because SCOTUS gave an opinion in Obergefell that action in and of itself did not either create or change any existing laws—the creation of laws is the job of legislatures, not SCOTUS. Thus, Mrs. Davis would, in effect, be breaking her oath to faithfully follow the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky by signing marriage licenses that have no foundation in any law permitting such a license, regardless of the opinion of SCOTUS.
In other words, the Kentucky governor and legislature would have to present Mrs. Davis with an actual law stating homosexual marriages are valid before she could even consider issuing a marriage license accordingly.
And I must say, there is merit to what Mrs. Davis and her attorney said here. But, I would argue, the real reason for her refusal, and the main point I want to emphasize in this post is the second reason she gave why she would not sign the licenses (and I’m not giving them in the order Mrs. Davis and her attorney brought them forth, mind you): her faith in Jesus Christ that brings with it an obligation to obey God’s law before the laws of men.
Even though, in reality, this issue is not a purely “religious” matter at all, it has certainly become that inasmuch as it has become another in a growing number of cases where the U.S. government has become increasingly hostile to Christians. Marriage as a natural institution was created before there were any formal religions in existence—before there were any nations in existence. At its core, and on a natural level, it is really a truth of natural law that binds all humanity regardless of religion.
But having said that, I could not agree with Mrs. Davis more because homosexual “marriage” has also become a matter of religious liberty. God has also revealed the truth concerning marriage in Sacred Scripture so that all can know its truth simply and without admixture of error. And beyond Christianity, other world religions also teach homosexual “marriages” to be immoral. Thus, this matter has truly become a point of contact for the persecution of more than just Christians, though there is little doubt as to the main target here.
The Catholic Christian Faith also teaches Christ elevated this natural institution to the level of a sacrament. Thus, this matter is especially grave to Catholics.
So let’s make this clear: Jesus Christ definitively teaches:
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one”… So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder (Matt. 19:5-6).
Marriage can only be validly confected between one man and one woman. Period. Moreover, homosexual acts are clearly taught in the New Testament (as well as in the Old Testament) to be gravely immoral, and not only for those who practice these sins, but also for those who “approve those who practice them” (Romans 1:26-32; cf. I Tim. 1:10; I Cor. 6:9-11). So, here again, Mrs. Davis is absolutely correct. As a Christian, she is bound by the teachings of Christ and the New Testament. St. Peter says it all in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than men.”
Here’s Where the Real Story Begins
Things predictably heated up when just last month (August of 2015) the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, Justice David L. Bunning presiding, ordered Mrs. Davis to issue licenses as, the judge claimed, is “required by law.” Davis understandably “lawyered up,” as they say, and attempted an emergency application with the Supreme Court seeking a stay of this order while she pursued an appeal.
It was denied.
Mrs. Davis then found herself in a quandary that, I would suggest, thousands of Christians are now facing, or will face in the near future, now that the Court has basically dictated to the entire nation re-defining what marriage is in its essence. In reality, the court has no power to do this; it has acted outside its legitimate boundaries, but there you have it.
The good news is this: Mrs. Davis took a stand. God bless her! She continued to hold her ground and refused to sign. But Judge Bunning would have none of this. Not only did he order her to be taken into custody, but he said she would remain in custody “until she agrees to issue the licenses.”
But Mrs. Davis would not bow. As it stands now, Judge Bunning back peddled, ordering her release on the condition that she not “interfere” with any of the clerks under her in issuing marriage licenses for same-sex “couples.” I personally think he caved under the pressure of the ensuing protests. But Mrs. Davis continues to vow to follow her conscience informed by the teachings of the Bible.
This isn’t over by any means, folks. There’s more to come. Much more!
A Shocking Response… Sort of…
The responses in the “liberal” media and from government officials were predictable. Mrs. Davis has been lambasted every which way but loose. She’s been called everything in the book up to and including “a b_ _ _ _” and “a monster” by the newest member of the television daytime news commentary show, The View, Michelle Collins.
But what has been surprising has been the response from some so-called “conservative” circles and from Christians… even Catholics. I heard one anchor at Fox News call Mrs. Davis “a hater,” and one Catholic Christian commentator say Kim Davis “is no hero;” she is guilty of “dereliction of duty.”
Really? For standing up for moral and biblical principles?
So what is a Catholic response to all of this? There are six points, I argue, we need to understand and consider in evaluating this situation.
1. Mrs. Davis has no obligation whatsoever to sign a document that, in her mind, would be to give tacit approval to homosexual “marriage” that is actually not marriage at all. And she is in no sense derelict in her duties in so refusing to sign, nor is she “a hater.” She is a woman of conscience. As Pope St. John Paul II declared, in his great Encyclical Letter, Evangelium Vitae, 72-73: quoting St. Thomas Aquinas:
“…human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence”…
There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection… From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
2. Though the above reference from Pope St. John Paul II was specifically dealing with the sins of abortion and euthanasia, he expanded the principle of the “obligation” of “conscientious objection” to include all laws that are contrary to the eternal law, or natural law, which is, by definition, human beings’ rational participation in the eternal law of God. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, however, issued a document specific to the situation we are dealing with now in its prophetic 2003 document titled: “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons:”
In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.
There is a distinction made here between “formal cooperation” in either the “enactment or application” of these types of unjust laws, and “material” cooperation. Formal cooperation means a person actually takes part in the immoral action of another with the intention of cooperating in that evil act. The formal cooperator is always as guilty as is the one with whom he is cooperating.
This would not apply in the case of Mrs. Davis. However, her cooperation in signing these licenses would involve “material cooperation” in the sin of attempting a homosexual “union.” Material cooperation can be either “proximate” or “remote.” “Proximate” material cooperation means a person is opposed to the sinful act being performed, but is immediately involved in the act. This kind of cooperation is generally understood to be sinful though there are exceptions, such as the case of a hostage being forced to act against his will in, say, a bank robbery. Or, one could argue, in cases where there could be grave consequences if a person were not to materially cooperate, like the loss of livelihood, the inability to care for one’s family, or something akin to this. A deeper discussion than this goes beyond what I can do here, but in short, there must be proportionate reason for there to be proximate material cooperation in an act that is intrinsically evil.
For our purposes here, Mrs. Davis’ case is one of remote material cooperation. This means her action is far enough removed from the actual sinful act that it can possibly be licit. But notice, the Church encourages conscientious objection where possible even when it comes to remote material cooperation with this grave sin of homosexual “unions.” Unlike the case of formal cooperation, the document uses the qualifier, “as far as is possible,” when it comes to material cooperation, but the emphasis is clearly on urging all of us to conscientiously object.
Moreover, and again, very important to the issue at hand, the Church clearly teaches, “In this area” of material cooperation “everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection.” Thus, I need to emphasize, conscientious objection is in no way dereliction of duty. It is a noble action and a right.
3. I am not arguing that Mrs. Davis has an obligation, from a Catholic and moral perspective (I realize Mrs. Davis is not Catholic, but again, Catholics are now facing the same dilemma as I said above), to refuse to sign. In fact, she had and has at least three options I can think of here, according to Catholic teaching. If there is a proportionate reason, and if Mrs. Davis, or one in her situation, makes it clear that she is opposed to homosexual unions, but is acting merely as an arm of the state in a perfunctory way, without ever giving any indication that she is in agreement with the final end of a homosexual “union,” she could, licitly, sign the document. But again, there would have to be proportionate reason. If, for example, her job, ability to care for her family, etc. is involved, this may well be licit.
She could also resign rather than attach her name in any way to this unjust “law.”
But she also has the right, according to Catholic teaching, to do precisely what she is doing in conscientiously objecting to this unjust “law.” In fact, as a Catholic, and as we have already read from the Magisterium of the Church, she would be encouraged to conscientiously object. This is a legitimate and even praiseworthy act on her part.
4. What about those who argue this: “If she refuses to sign these documents, she is guilty of the ‘injustice’ of receiving a paycheck that includes her obligation to sign these ‘marriage licenses.’ She is both refusing to do her job and taking money under false pretenses.”
The answer is: she is doing her job, as well as keeping her obligations to her God. In Mrs. Davis’ case, she was elected to, among other things, uphold the laws and statutes of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States of America. And she is doing exactly that. A state, a “commonwealth,” a nation, etc. does not have the authority to force its employees to do absolutely anything under the guise of a “law.” The “law” she is being asked to act in accordance with is not a law at all. It is an act of violence that must be opposed using every licit means available.
Granted, she is breaking what the United States of America considers to be a law. And she needs to understand that in so doing she will have to face the consequences. And in her case, Mrs. Davis has truly “counted the cost.” But folks, we have a long history in this country of heroes a la Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., etc. who have been icons of conscientious objection. And we have a much longer list among our Catholic patrimony of martyrs, confessors, and great saints who have also given up to and including the ultimate sacrifice while “obey[ing] God rather than men.”
Moreover, her act of civil disobedience is also a witness to her employer and to the world of the injustice that is homosexual “marriage.” Not only is she just in receiving her paycheck even though she is refusing to perform what she perceives to be an immoral act required by her superiors, but she should get a raise for being a prophetic voice crying in the wilderness! Though, somehow, I don’t think that will happen…
5. What about those who say: “She is an elected official who was elected to uphold all of the laws of the United States and of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, not just the ones she likes.”
This takes us back to the definition of what a “law” is. But consider this as well. I will grant that there are cases where conscientious objection is not allowable. Marines in the heat of battle are not at liberty to take up picket signs on the battle field, endangering the lives of their brothers-at-arms. The common good must always be considered when considering both the law and our obedience to the law. In this case, those Marines could legitimately be arrested and charged with treason in wartime. But the onus is on the state to demonstrate that the common good is at stake and that conscientious objection would result in grave danger to the common good.
This case doesn’t even come close. The government could very easily make accommodations for Christians or people of good will who understand the truth of the moral law in this matter.
Generally speaking, an elected official does not give up his or her conscience and obligations to God when elected to office.
6. A Final Thought
In reading through tons of responses to the actions of this courageous Christian woman in the small town of Rowan, Kentucky, one of the first things that came to my mind was this: “Could this be our ‘Rosa Parks’?”
My gut tells me no. It’s no because in our case, we have the White House against us, the United States government in general, the Supreme Court in particular, the media, the popular culture, and more. Let’s face it. Christianity—and Catholicism in particular—is hated in the United States, and is under attack by the powers that be.
Don’t get me wrong, there are good people in high places as well. But they are quickly becoming the Bishop Fishers and Thomas Mores of history in comparison to the masses who will sell their souls for a mess of pottage.
What we need today are a few thousand Kim Davises. We need people who will take the hoses, the dogs, imprisonment, and more, if necessary, in order to stand up for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for the truth of the moral law.
God bless Kim Davis. In my book, she’s a hero! May she inspire heroics in all of us!