Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk, is confused. No wonder! The Supreme Court confused the entire country with their recent marriage ruling. As I wrote one year ago in Marriage v. Marriage, the institution we call marriage is two different things. The government now defines marriage as a legal relationship of two individuals regardless of their gender which affords them certain government and commercial entitlements. On the other hand, various religions define marriage according to their faith and scripture. A couple married in a church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or some other facility by an official of that religion is subject to the benefits and restrictions of their particular faith. Marriage authorized by a government is not the same as marriage authorized by a religious entity. Unfortunately, we now use the same word for both. Traditionally, most marriages were of both kinds: we get a license from our county, and then we get married in a manner sanctioned by our faith.
The Kentucky clerk apparently believes that her office authorizes marriages that fit the religious definition in accordance with her own particular religious beliefs. She is sadly mistaken. When she signs or allows her name to appear on a county marriage license, all she is doing is certifying that the two individuals, regardless of their gender, meet the legal qualifications for that license. She is doing this so they can enjoy a legal and secular status that accrues various government benefits and limitations. The couple’s private life together is absolutely none of her business and definitely not the concern of any government. The couple’s religious beliefs should not trouble her. She is a government official whose authority is prescribed by statute, not by the Bible. She is not responsible for their behavior or lifestyle, and her actions neither condone nor sanction their future relationship.
It will be interesting when two people, perhaps two women or two men, apply for a marriage license in order to file a joint tax return or set up a home together for financial reasons. They know that being married entitles them to certain benefits otherwise unavailable. The marriage license authorized by the county and state has nothing to do with their sexual behavior or any possible romantic connection, whatsoever. Under the ruling of the Supreme Court, they may get married. No county clerk is going to ask them what kind of physical or emotional relationship they have or intend to have in the future. That is not the business of government. I’m sure there are marriages of convenience between men and women that have nothing to do with romance or sex. We don’t ask these people to certify their intended private sex lives before we give them a county issued marriage license.
Kim Davis is acting as if she were authorizing a religious marriage. She is not! As an elected representative of the people, she should comply with the responsibilities of her office, and those responsibilities do not conflict with her religion in anyway. If a couple who receives a marriage license from her subsequently behaves in a manner that she would not approve, it is none of her business, and it is definitely not her fault. She is confused about her role.
Although, the media and the LGBT community celebrated the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for homosexuals, in fact it allows any two people to get married and married (duplication intended) regardless of their relationship or lifestyle. There are many pragmatic reasons why two people may choose to be married under the government’s authority.