Ten years ago at a Columbus-based state legislator’s public question-and-answer session, someone asked about same-sex marriage. The legislator opined that same-sex marriage was an abomination. He would always vote to forbid it.
I was an active minister back then. As a Unitarian Universalist, I was also a strong believer in equal marriage rights.
So I asked for the microphone. The Indiana General Assembly could pass any law it wanted, I said. But marriage was a religious matter. My religious belief called me to give equal treatment to same-sex and opposite-sex couples. No law the General Assembly passed would make me stop.
Basically, I got shouted down. Same-sex marriage was an abomination. His expression and tone suggested I was an abomination, as well. Next thing you knew, he said, people would start marrying their pets.
On my side, I really was ready to serve jail time for this religious principle. Liberal ministers have been getting locked up on matters of conscience for a long time. It’s even a good career move.
The state would actually play into my hands if they jailed me. I was quite prepared to write sermons in my cell, for a church member to read from the pulpit during my incarceration. Again, it goes with the job.
Ten years later, my, how times have changed.
Kim Davis, the Rowan County Clerk in Kentucky, violated a court order to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was sent to jail as a result.
Some politicians who would still deny ministers like me the religious freedom to marry same-sex couples descended on Rowan County like vampires on a blood bank. Suddenly, it was all about her “religious freedom.”
What kind of religious freedom are we talking here? My religious freedom was to follow my conscience and unite couples, who were also acting according to their consciences.
Her religious freedom, she claims, is to prevent people like me from carrying out our religious freedom.
Huh? That’s not religious freedom. That’s dictatorship.
Davis doesn’t want her name to go on any marriage license for a same-sex couple. You know what? I’m fine with that. I don’t agree with her. But if that’s what her conscience dictates, I’ll respect it.
Expert legal analysis suggests she could petition under Kentucky’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act to have her name left off marriage licenses issued by her office. That would be “reasonable accommodation” for her religious belief — a good compromise.
But she and her lawyers didn’t ask for that. Instead, they argued that she should be able to prevent marriage licenses from being given out — period.
She wasn’t just asking for the right to follow her conscience. Rather, she insisted on using her government position to keep other people — like me — from following ours. All courts agreed, that was breaking the law.
We’re in the middle of this news story. Who knows how it will turn out? But personally, I don’t want Kim Davis to face more jail time.
Some workers in her office are willing to issue marriage licenses to all comers. Davis needs to leave them alone and let them do it. On Monday she said she would.
She shouldn’t have to put her name on it if conscience forbids. That’s fair. But religious freedom is the right to worship and act according to your sincere conscience. It’s not the power to stop me from worshiping and acting according to mine.
The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a community columnist and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He is a recently retired Columbus minister, and remains active as minister emeritus and a freelance writer on art, ethics, religion and social issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.