"We have to do our job."
That simple sentence, spoken by Chris Jobe, Lawrence County Clerk and president of the Kentucky County Clerks Association, will, we hope, bring to a close the tempest that's arisen in some Kentucky counties over marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
One of the duties of county clerks, along with registering cars and property transfers, is issuing marriage licenses to people who qualify for them.
Jobe was one of several who initially, after the Supreme Court ruling Friday affirming the right of same-sex partners to be legally married in every state, balked at issuing licenses to the newly qualified couples.
Several clerks, citing conflicting religious beliefs, declined on Friday and Monday to issue any marriage licenses rather than accommodate same-sex applicants.
But, as Jobe pointed out Tuesday, issuing marriage licenses is part of the job Kentucky's county clerks are elected to perform.
Since Friday the Constitution of the United States, which each clerk took an oath to uphold, affords same-sex couples the right to marry and enjoy all the civil protections that come with marriage.
Just as a clerk who follows sharia law at home could not insist women cover their heads before applying for a driver's license, a clerk whose religious beliefs don't encompass same-sex marriage cannot impose those private values on the public.
The beauty of the Constitution, wrote U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn, who struck down Kentucky's ban on gay marriage last year, is that it allows people the freedom to believe whatever they want but not the right to use our government to impose those beliefs on anyone else.
"No court can require churches or other religious institutions to marry a same-sex couple, or any other couple, for that matter," Heyburn wrote.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion for the Supreme Court, was careful to note that religious institutions and individuals will be protected, "as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered."
These comments give lie to U.S. Rep. Andy Barr, R-Lexington, who responded to the Supreme Court decision by grandstanding about Congress' need to consider "what actions should be taken to prohibit discrimination against people of faith and to protect freedom of conscience."
Those actions were taken over 200 years ago when people who, as Heyburn wrote, came to America, "to find both freedom of religion and freedom from it," wrote the U.S. Constitution.