Republican presidential candidates have begun to weigh in on the controversy over a Kentucky clerk who refuses to issue marriage licenses in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of marriage equality.
Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) have indicated Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis should issue marriage licenses or resign, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended her actions.
Fiorina and Graham made their views known in separate radio interviews Tuesday with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt, who asked them for advice for Davis. The Kentucky clerk continues to enforce a “no licenses” policy in her office out of religious objections to same-sex marriage despite orders from multiple courts enjoining her from executing the policy.
Fiorina first made the case for protecting religious liberty “with great passion” and said expending political capital to protect that principle is important “because it’s clear religious liberty is under assault in many, many ways.”
“Having said that, when you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role,” Fiorina continued. “When you are a government employee as opposed to say, an employee of another kind of organization, then in essence, you are agreeing to act as an arm of the government.”
Fiorina initially didn’t have definitive instructions for Davis, but strongly suggested the clerk’s options are to issue marriage licenses to all couples regardless of sexual orientation or resign her post.
“And, while I disagree with this court’s decision, their actions are clear,” Fiorina said. “And so I think in this particular case, this woman now needs to make a decision of conscience — is she prepared to continue to work for the government, be paid for by the government in which case she needs to execute the government’s will, or does she feel so strongly about this that she wants to sever her employment with the government and go seek employment elsewhere where her religious liberties will be paramount over her duties as a government employee?”
When Hewitt asked Fiorina whether Davis should continue to defy the courts, Fiorina responded by saying that course of action “is not appropriate.”
“Given the role that she’s playing, given the fact that the government is paying her salary, I think that is not appropriate,” Fiorina said. “Now that’s my personal opinion. Others may disagree with that, but I think it’s a very different situation for her than someone in a hospital who’s asked to perform an abortion or someone at a florist who’s asked to serve a gay wedding. I think when you’re a government employee, you are put into a different position honestly.”
Fiorina is considered an opponent of same-sex marriage and had supported California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, but has said she favors benefits for same-sex couples. Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality, Fiorina said she wouldn’t support a U.S. constitutional amendment to reverse the decision.
Graham — an opponent of same-sex marriage who’s similarly said the nation should move on after the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage decision — was more direct in his advice for Davis.
“As a public official, comply with the law or resign,” Graham said.
Asked to elaborate, Graham said, “The rule of law is the rule of law. We are a rule of law nation and I appreciate her conviction. I support traditional marriage, but she’s accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone, and that’s her choice.”
Paul reportedly took the opposite approach. According to the Washington Post, the candidate expressed solidarity with Davis in an interview with Boston Herald Radio during a three-day campaign swing through the Northeast.
“I think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say that they believe in something is an important part of the American way,” Paul is quoted as saying.
Paul also reportedly said government should get out of marriage entirely and set up a system of contracts for couples seeking to wed while leaving marriage to the churches.
“I think one way to get around the whole idea of what the Supreme Court is forcing on the states is for states just to get out of the business of giving out licenses,” Paul is quoted as saying. “Alabama has already voted to do this, they’re just no longer going to give out licenses. And anybody can make a contract. And then if you want a marriage contract you go to a church. And so I’ve often said we could have gotten around all of this also in the sense that I do believe everybody has a right to a contract.”
The idea that a system of contracts should replace marriage is something Paul has articulated before when asked about the issue of marriage rights for gay couples.
“There never should have been any limitations on people of the same sex having contracts, but I do object to the state putting its imprimatur to the specialness of marriage on something that’s different from what most people have defined as marriage for most of history,” Paul is quoted as saying in the Herald interview. “So one way is just getting the state out completely and I think that’s what we’re headed towards, actually. Whether or not people who still work for the state can do it without the legislature changing it is something I’m going to leave up to the courts exactly how to do it.”
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has campaigned on an executive order protecting people who oppose same-sex marriage, defended Davis in a statement to the Huffington Post.
“I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions,” Jindal said. “I think it’s wrong to force Christian individuals or business owners. We are seeing government today discriminate against whether it’s clerks, florists, musicians or others. I think that’s wrong. I think you should be able to keep your job and follow your conscience. I absolutely do believe people have a First Amendment right, a constitutional right. I don’t think the court can take that away.”
In a statement to the New York Times on Wednesday, Rubio said the government should respect Davis’ beliefs and offer accommodation to those who object to performing duties out of religious objections.
“We should seek a balance between government’s responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions,” Rubio is quoted as saying.
“While the clerk’s office has a governmental duty to carry out the law, there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office,” Rubio reportedly continued.
According to the Associated Press, Huckabee has gone the furthest thus far in support of Davis, reportedly calling her Wednesday to offer her “prayers and support.”
The former Arkansas governor is quoted as saying in a statement Davis is on sound legal footing and “showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington.” Huckabee also reportedly praised Davis for not “bowing to the false God of judicial supremacy.”
The U.S. Supreme Court denied a stay Monday on the district court order requiring Davis to issue marriage licenses in her office. She and her deputy clerks are required to appear before federal court on Thursday to face charges of contempt for their continued refusal to comply with the order.