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Religious Tolerance logo

The U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage (aka gay
marriage) across the U.S. in its ruling of The Obergefell v. Hodges
case from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, & Tennessee.

Part 69:
This webmaster's thoughts on how to try to
resolve the conflict over issuing gay marriage
certificates in Rowan County, KY and elsewhere:
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We use the term "gay marriage."to represent the marriage of two persons of
the same sex. We prefer "Same-sex marriage," a more inclusive term that
includes spouses with a bisexual sexual orientation, but it would make this web
site harder to find because most search engines cannot handle synonyms.
"LGBT" refers to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals.
"LGB" refers to lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.

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This topic is continued from the previous essay

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LGBT symbol 2015-SEP-10: This webmaster's thoughts about the situation in Rowan County, KY: [bias alert]

I personally feel that the media sometimes has difficulty handling complex conflicts involving multiple people who hold diverse points of view.

TV, radio, and the print media sometimes cover complex news items by first over-simplifying their description of the people and issues involved. Religious media sometimes distort the issues involved, largely through omission. In the case of the conflict over gay marriage in Rowan County, Kentucky, the media have concentrated mostly on Kim Davis, the County Clerk, and her religious beliefs opposing marriage equality. In doing so, they have ignored other issues and many other people.

My feeling is that we need to go deeper and analyze the beliefs, statements and other actions of many more individuals directly involved in this case. Only then might we have a chance of finding a resolution to the issue in Rowan County and in the rest of the country.

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A deeper look at the people and issues involved:

Virtually all of the attention being paid in the media to the situation in Rowan County is focused on one person: Kim Davis, the clerk, and upon her religious beliefs. However, there are in fact many more people directly involved in the conflict. Each of them has a variety of religious, spiritual, ethical, political, and other beliefs. The people include:

  • The six deputy clerks who also work in the office, and

  • The dozens of loving, committed same-sex couples who have sought or will be seeking marriage licenses in Rowan county in the future.

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Each of these individuals has their own set of beliefs regarding the provision of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Some beliefs relate to:

  • The nature and status of the U.S. Constitution as compared to state Constitutions, federal laws, and state laws.

  • The nature of religious freedom and liberty: Does it involve mainly freedom of religious speech, assembly, writing, and proselytizing? Or do the religious freedom clauses in the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also protect individuals claiming the religious liberty to take actions that discriminate against others?

  • The actions of the U.S. Supreme Court, and whether they have the authority to interpret the U.S. Constitution for the entire country.

  • The authority of the The Honorable David L. Bunning, United States District Judge of the District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky who has issued rulings in the Rowan County conflict.

  • What are the purpose(s) of marriage?

  • The nature of sexual orientation, which is normally considered to occur in three forms: homosexuality, bisexuality, and heterosexuality. Is a person's orientation chosen or unchosen; caused by genes, epigenetics, or the environment or some combination? Is it fixed or changeable; moral, immoral, or either -- depending upon circumstances; natural or unnatural; normal or abnormal; etc?

  • The nature of gender identity: as experienced by cisgender, transgender, and transsexual persons, These involve the same criteria as for sexual orientation above.

  • How binding is the employees' oath of office, particularly the section regarding them upholding the U.S. Constitution? In case of a conflict between the oath and the person's sincere religious beliefs, which one rules?

  • Who among the clerk and deputy clerks are authorized to issue marriage licenses, and under what conditions? Everyone agrees that the clerk can issue licenses. The covering legislation in Kentucky seems to unambiguously state that a deputy clerk can also issue license, either when the clerk is present in the office, or is absent. But some religious groups and a christian legal defense group have said that a marriage license signed only by a deputy clerk is not worth the paper it is printed on, and that any subsequent marriage would be invalid.

  • What is the exact significance of the signature of a clerk or deputy clerk on a marriage license? Does it merely acknowledge that the clerk/deputy clerk has found the couple to be legally qualified to marry? Or does it also mean that the clerk/deputy clerk personally approves of their subsequent marriage?

  • Among the clerk, deputy clerks, and customers of the county office who are Judeo-Christian:
    • How should the Bible be interpreted -- particularly the six "clobber passages" that have often been used to denigrate persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation?

    • How binding is the Golden Rule which Jesus required all of his followers to obey? His command is recorded in two canonical Gospels and one non-canonical Gospel. This is formally called the Ethic of Reciprocity. It calls each person to treat others as that person would wish to be treated by others. It is found in various versions in all the main religions of the world. In the case before us, the clerk and deputy clerks would certainly want to receive a marriage license for themselves if they wanted to marry. This would seem to imply that they are obligated to supply marriage licenses to persons who come to their office seeking one, whenever it is legally possible.

  • Among the clerk, deputy clerk, and customers who are theists, perhaps the most important consideration is what God believes about same-sex marriage.

    This web site conducted a pilot study to determine whether people can assess God's will on gay marriage through prayer. About 80 visitors to this web site took part. Each had an active prayer life. About half initially approved of marriage equality; the rest disapproved of same-sex marriage. Each volunteer prayed to God to determine whether God approved or opposed gay marriage. They were asked to continue praying until they felt they believed that they had assessed God's will. Virtually everyone felt that they had successfully assessed the will of God.

    Results of the study surprised us:
    • 100% of the volunteers who personally supported gay marriage, and who felt that they had assessed the will of God, found that God agreed with them.

    • 100% of the volunteers who personally opposed gay marriage, and who felt that they had assessed the will of God, found that God agreed with them as well.

We concluded that it is impossible to assess the will of God through prayer conclusively, at least on this topic.

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How might the conflict be resolved in Rowan county and elsewhere?

People's religious beliefs are profoundly divided on the matter of gay marriage. Sincere, devout, thoughtful, knowledgeable believers from the liberal and conservative wings of many religions have reached very different opinions about whether same-sex couples should be allowed to be married. So have secularists. A compromise is difficult to achieve.

My personal belief is that all efforts should be made to achieve an accommodation. My opinion is that:

  • Neither a county clerk or deputy clerk should be required to authorize a marriage certificate if it violates their sincere religious beliefs.

  • State, district, and territorial laws should be changed to match Kentucky's so that either a county clerk or a deputy clerk is able to authorize marriage licenses.

  • The marriage certificate form should be modified to clarify that the clerk or deputy clerk authorizing it is simply certifying that the couple are legally eligible to marry. The signature does not indicate approval of the subsequent marriage in any way.

  • For a county clerk to forbid her or his deputy clerks from issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples would probably violate the deputy's deeply held religious beliefs about human rights and should not be allowed.

  • Although the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as guaranteeing the right of eligible same-sex couples to obtain a marriage certificate in any county of the U.S., neither the High Court ruling nor the 14th Amendment appears to guarantee that the engaged couple has any right to require that the certificate be issued by a specific individual in the county office or within a brief interval of time. If a situation arose in which all the clerks and deputy clerks in a county office had religious objections to authorizing a marriage license to a qualified same-sex couple, some backup procedure should be set up in which an employee of the Attorney General could travel to the county office and personally authorize the license.

My feeling is that such a system of multiple accommodations would minimize difficulty in implementing marriage equality across the country's states, district, and territories.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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How you may have arrived here:

Copyright © 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
First posted: 2015-SEP-10
Latest update: 2015-SEP-10
Author: B.A. Robinson
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