The Constitution Doesn’t Protect Us From Every Painful Choice

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2015-09-10 – Same-sex marriages are not the only unions that a religiously-motivated county clerk might oppose. My religion (Jewish) opposes marriages between Jews and Catholics. My wife’s religion (Catholic) opposes marriages between Catholics and Jews. Her religion also opposes remarriages; she was divorced before she married me.

In spite of our prohibited union, my wife and I had no trouble whatsoever getting our marriage license. We will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of that event next Groundhog Day (whether the groundhog sees its shadow or not!).

If Kim Davis is able to veto same-sex marriages in her county in Kentucky, then clerks in other counties will be free to veto marriages like my own—whenever my marriage violates their conscience.

If you don’t think this is a problem, you should consider the way Israel handles marriages. (I single out Israel, not because it is unusual, but simply because I know about it. If you know how things work in other countries, please leave a comment.)

Although the State of Israel is secular in some respects, marriage is controlled by religious authorities. I would not have been able to marry my wife in Israel. I could have gone to rabbis to marry a Jewish woman. She could have gone to priests to marry a Catholic man. But neither rabbis nor priests would marry the two of us together—and the State of Israel defers to their decisions.

My wife could have converted to Judaism, but this would have introduced a new degree of complexity. Not all Jewish conversions are recognized. Conversions for the purpose of marriage are generally not approved. (I have no idea what a priest in Israel would have required of me if I had decided to convert to Catholicism for the purpose of marriage.)

Not only converts are in limbo in Israel. Natural born Jews from some parts of the world are unable to prove their status as Jews. Without such proof, marriages are denied or delayed until proof can be found. Divorces also create problems for Jewish women (not men) seeking to remarry in Israel. And these are heterosexual marriages!

Israel is a small country.

The United States is a large country. We have 3,143 counties (or equivalents, such as parishes in Louisiana). Presumably, these 3,143 counties have 3,143 county clerks. If each clerk exercised a veto over the issuance of marriage licenses in their bailiwick, we could have 3,143 marriage laws in this country—marriage laws founded upon religious beliefs of a single individual in each county.

The United States doesn’t work that way.

We are a nation of laws of general application, not a nation of local potentates (no matter how devout that potentate might be).

No one is forced to violate their religious beliefs. If you don’t believe in same-sex marriage, no one forces it on you. If you don’t believe in interfaith marriage, no one forces that on you. No church or synagogue or mosque is compelled to sanctify any marriage that they disapprove. It is only the government that is constrained.

The government and those sworn to act on behalf of the government in applying and enforcing its laws.

* * *

I know this is distressing to some people. You have a job that you love. But then something happens that makes the job not what you expected.

That’s life.

I can relate to this. I once had a government job that changed in a way that went against my religious beliefs at the time.

It was the summer between high school and college. Starting that spring, I had a number of part time jobs that paid below minimum wage. But a week or so after graduation, I got a job working for the City of Dayton as a park laborer. It was 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday, with full minimum wage. It was a chance to make some money for college.

In the middle of the third week, my boss came around to tell my crew that we were being shifted to a Wednesday through Sunday schedule.

I would have to work on the Sabbath.

I had a choice: Violate my religious belief and work the new schedule or quit. So I quit. I was pretty angry. I felt that my religious freedom was being infringed. But there was really no avenue for opposing the schedule change, so I quit. (Fortunately, I found an even better job within a week.)

It’s a painful choice to have to make. But the Constitution doesn’t protect us from every painful choice. It protects us from religious coercion.

* * *

You could argue, of course, that I was subject to religious coercion when my work days were changed. You could argue, of course, that Kim Davis is being subject to religious coercion by being forced to choose between her job and her religious beliefs. And those arguments are certainly being made.

But we live in a society with 3,143 counties and hundreds of religious faiths.

The first amendment of the Constitution requires that those counties must be neutral ground.

Outside the courthouse, you can have any faith you want. You can marry or refuse marriage to your religious heart’s content.

Inside the courthouse, it’s a different story. And if you want a job in the courthouse, your job is to enforce that neutrality and apply the law. If you can’t do that, you just need to leave the courthouse.

That’s life. And the Constitution doesn’t protect you from life.


#MarriageEquaility #P2 #Obergefell #KimDavis

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