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Sunday, December 4, 2016

If ever there was an argument to make teenagers take citizenship exams before they can get a high-school diploma, it’s the Kentucky clerk who won’t issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and her all too supportive husband. Make that fourth husband.

“They want us to accept their beliefs and their ways. But they won’t accept our beliefs and our ways,” Joe Davis said of gay protesters at the Rowan County Courthouse, The Associated Press reported. “Their beliefs and their ways” is a reference to gay people who are trying to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s June ruling that they have a constitutional right to marry. “Our beliefs and our ways” refers to his wife Kim’s contention that she has the right to ignore the high court in favor of “God’s authority.”

That authority apparently includes godly approval to marry four times in a life so wildly imperfect that U.S. News & World Report could write this paragraph: “She gave birth to twins five months after divorcing her first husband. They were fathered by her third husband but adopted by her second.” All is now cool, though. According to her lawyer, Davis converted to Christianity a few years ago and her slate was wiped clean.

Would it be churlish to mention here that Davis has denied a marriage license several times to David Moore and David Ermold, who have been together for 17 years? Also, exactly what part of “separation of church and state” doesn’t she understand?

Davis has been sued for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and the Supreme Court declined Monday to get involved. She can’t be fired because she was elected to her position, but she could be found in contempt of court.

The honorable thing would be to step down, as county clerks have done in states such as Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi. There is a long, long tradition of resignations over conscience issues. But Davis would rather keep her job and exempt herself from whatever she thinks her religion demands, regardless of how that affects the lives of the taxpayers she is supposed to serve.

There is plenty of precedent for exemptions based on faith or personal morality, of course. Conscientious objectors in wartime. Doctors who oppose abortion. And for over a year now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, certain corporations run by religious families who don’t want to offer insurance coverage for contraception methods they consider tantamount to abortion.

Yet war is a matter of life and death, and for those who believe that life begins at conception, so is abortion. Gay marriage is different. Nobody is at risk of dying, not even a fertilized embryo. Beyond the happy couple, in fact, few—if any—are affected at all.

So it’s hard to see this Kentucky case as anything but religion injected into the public sphere, with intent to discriminate against adults who are pining to make the ultimate commitment to one another. Some of them already have done so informally, for years and years, their unions far more enduring than those Davis cemented with official vows. All they are asking now is to be married in the eyes of society, the law and their God.

Why would people want to deny others rights and happiness in their personal lives, which should be none of their business? Why is it so hard for some people to embrace or at least accept diversity? Human differences — of appearance, temperament, chemistry, biology and all the rest — are clearly part of The Plan, whether the design is God’s or nature’s or not a design at all.

Back in 2009, Gallup found “a strong case that knowing someone who is gay or lesbian fosters more accepting attitudes on many of the issues surrounding gay and lesbian relations today.” In 2013, three-quarters in a Gallup poll said they personally knew a friend, relative or co-worker who was gay or lesbian. This year, 6 in 10 people said gay marriage should be legal. Not surprisingly, that was a record high.

The Davis case is now a headline cause for Liberty Counsel, a nonprofit “litigation, education and policy organization” that offers pro bono legal assistance in cases related to its mission of “advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family.” But the data — and the Supreme Court moves — underscore that Davis, Liberty Counsel and their allies are outliers, bucking social and political trends that are rapidly leaving them behind.

Follow Jill Lawrence on Twitter @JillDLawrence. To find out more about Jill Lawrence and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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