An increasing number of news reports that there are clerks’ offices that are refusing, citing religious grounds, to issue civil marriage licenses to same-sex couples has me boiling mad.
1. If you are a public servant, paid with taxpayer funds, you must serve all the public. You don’t get to pick and choose. Same-sex couples and LGBT individuals pay taxes, too. You work for them no more or less than you do for any other citizen in your community.
2. We’re talking about issuing a “civil” license (and in some cases, conducting a civil ceremony). There is no religious component to a marriage license or to a civil ceremony; in fact, the times I’ve been deputized as a deputy marriage commissioner in California, I’ve been instructed that as a temporary representative of the government I may not conduct a religious ceremony or use religious language. So there is no valid religious reason to refuse to grant a civil marriage license to someone.
3. Why do we never hear of clerks refusing to issue marriage licenses to the previously divorced, or to atheists, or to interfaith couples? (And why when a clerk in Louisiana tried to refuse to give an interracial couple a marriage license, citing her religious belief, did Gov. Jindal suggest that what she did was illegal and that she should be punished? The same Jindal who now says that clerks should not be punished for refusing to follow the law regarding same-sex couples’ rights?) Why do their “sincerely held religious beliefs” only come into play with the person walking into their government, taxpayer-funded office is gay? These are not principled Christians so much as they are bigots and hypocrites attempting to use religion to justify one particular prejudice above all others.
4. Why should public servants be able to keep their jobs when they say they will stop doing one of their major functions? In private industry, if an employee refuses to do his or her job, there are consequences, including no longer having that job.
5. One clerk in Arkansas has decided to resign rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She, at least, I applaud for doing the right thing (even as I still believe she is a hypocrite for never having refused to issue marriage licenses to other people that her religion surely considers to be sinners) when she realized she was not willing to do the job that the public pays her to do. I have no patience with or respect for the many others, though, who are not willing to resign, but who think that they should be able to refuse to serve one segment — and only one segment — of the public.
There should be no accommodation for public servants who are unwilling to serve all of the public. Asking someone to go to another county, or to a different office, or to come back on a different day when the non-bigoted clerk is on duty, is no different than asking someone to sit at a different lunch counter, drink from a separate water fountain, or move to the back of the bus, practices that once were justified, by some, as religiously motivated. Has history taught us nothing?