An elected Kentucky clerk has catapulted herself to the national spotlight by refusing to issue marriage licenses to opposite-sex and same-sex couples in defiance of a federal court order. In justifying her stance, Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis has claimed "God's authority" and cited her religious opposition to same-sex marriages.
But some prominent opponents of marriage equality, including at least three Republican presidential candidates, are telling Davis to give up the fight and do her job.
Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt:
When you are a government employee, I think you take on a different role. 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.
And while I disagree with the Supreme Court's decision, their actions are clear. 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 as government employee?
Sen. Lindsey Graham made a similar argument to Hewitt:
As a public official, comply with the law or resign… The rule of the law is the rule of law. That's we are — a rule-of-law nation.
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.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich referenced his previous comments on same-sex marriage when asked about Davis, according to the Washington Post's Dave Weigel. Here are those previous comments, from the Republican presidential debate in August when he was asked if he would accept a gay son or daughter:
Well, look, I'm an old-fashioned person here, and I happen to believe in traditional marriage. But I've also said the court has ruled … and I said we'll accept it. And guess what? I just went to a wedding of a friend of mine who happens to be gay. Because somebody doesn't think the way I do doesn't mean that I can't care about them or I can't love them. So if one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them, and I would accept them, because you know what, that's what we're taught when we have strong faith.
Other candidates have either supported Davis or given more mixed responses. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he supports Davis. Sen. Rand Paul gave a vague answer that implied he supports Davis's stand as "an important part of the American way." Sen. Marco Rubio told the New York Times that the clerk's office should carry out the law (marry same-sex couples) but make accommodations so individual government officials don't have to violate their religious beliefs, and Sen. Ted Cruz voiced a similar position.
To some extent, Republican candidates are threading a needle: While most Republicans oppose same-sex marriage, the general public mostly supports it. So the candidates speaking against Davis likely want to look opposed to marriage equality in the primary, but they might be better off avoiding looking too tough on the issue for the general election.
But these candidates are also espousing a traditional, conservative value: Follow the rule of law. The candidates may disagree with the Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling, but the courts have been clear that it's the law of the land — and, according to them, Davis should respect that.