Here's our best advice to Kentucky county clerks still conflicted about issuing marriage licenses to all qualified couples who come before them: Listen to Gov. Steve Beshear.
Beshear drew widespread criticism, including on these pages, for appealing a federal district judge's ruling against Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage.
But in the two weeks since the United States Supreme Court rejected Kentucky's ban and ruled that same-sex couples have the same right to marry as opposite-sex couples, Beshear has reacted appropriately, consistently and in accordance with the law.
The day the ruling was released, Beshear told county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses immediately to gay couples. "Neither your oath nor the Supreme Court dictates what you must believe," Beshear said in a letter. "But as elected officials, they do prescribe how we must act."
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Again yesterday, after meeting with Casey County Clerk Casey Davis, who is one of the recalcitrant clerks, Beshear displayed common sense and respect for law.
Beshear said he will not waste money on a special session to somehow find a way to relieve county clerks of their duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution. Beshear seems equally uninterested in creating a state website for couples to apply for and receive marriage licenses so county clerks can pick and choose which of their duties to carry out.
To his credit, Senate President Robert Stivers agreed with Beshear that a special session, at a cost of $65,000 a day, is unnecessary.
Another piece of advice for Davis and other clerks: be careful what you ask for. If a state online marriage license site were created, it could raise broader questions about the need for county clerks. Other duties, such as issuing licences for automobiles, boats and businesses and registering voters, could also be handled online.
County clerk jobs are worth quite a bit. Davis earns about $80,000 a year in a county where per capita income is about $15,600 and median household income just under $30,000, according to recent numbers from the U.S. Census.
The Family Foundation, Kentucky's self-appointed moral arbiter, has been quick to wield inflamatory language — "ACLU wolves" — to raise money for the rapidly created "religious liberty defense fund."
That organization has also come up with an imaginative argument, assailing Attorney General Jack Conway's decision to decline to defend Kentucky's gay-marriage ban while the governor gives clerks no choice about issuing licenses.
This is a weak argument because the jobs have different duties. The attorney general is not required to defend every state law, but county clerks must issue marriage licenses to all qualified applicants.
As for this religious liberty defense fund, the First Amendment already guarantees religious liberty. Davis, like all citizens, is free to protest peacefully against same-sex marriage. The government cannot impose any religion or religious beliefs on any citizen.
And that's where the problem rests with a few of our county clerks. They, as agents of the government, want to impose their religious views on the rest of us.
Stop this foolishness. Listen to the governor and uphold the Constitution.