Editorials

Gay marriage was no sneak attack; Rowan clerk took oath when it looked likely

If Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis decides to let her deputies continue granting marriage licenses, the hubbub should wind down. If she somehow chooses to interfere, expect a new round of fireworks.
If Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis decides to let her deputies continue granting marriage licenses, the hubbub should wind down. If she somehow chooses to interfere, expect a new round of fireworks. AP

A lot has been made by Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, her attorneys and supporters about the unexpected dilemma visited upon her when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Elected county clerk, a position whose duties include issuing marriage licenses to legally qualified couples, Davis found herself, she says, being told to do something her religion abhors, something that was not required of her when she was elected last November.

"I never imagined a day like this would come," Davis said in a statement released by the public-relations department of Liberty Counsel.

What's hard to imagine is how Davis, who worked in the clerk's office for almost three decades while her mother had the job, couldn't have seen this day coming.

Last spring, as Davis put $5,500 into her race for the Democratic nomination for Rowan County Clerk, there was a lot of news about same-sex marriage in the United States.

In the months leading up to the May 20 primary, U.S. District Court judges in Illinois, Texas, Michigan, Idaho and Oregon struck down state bans on same-sex marriage saying they were unconstitutional. On election day, a federal judge in Pennsylvania did the same.

The drumbeat continued as the general election neared. Federal district judges in Utah, Colorado and, most notably, Kentucky found the bans unconstitutional.

Throughout that summer and fall, appeals were decided at the federal circuit court level. Appellate courts in the 4th, 7th, 9th and 10th districts upheld the lower court findings.

By election day, 19 states and the District of Columbia had legalized same-sex marriage.

Two days after Davis' victory in the Nov. 4 election, a divided 6th Circuit became the first federal appellate court to uphold bans on same-sex marriage. With disagreement among the circuit courts, it seemed clear this issue was headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In January of this year, not long after Davis took her oath of office, the court agreed to consider the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage.

With this history, it's hard to understand Davis' deer-caught-in-the-headlights defense. Everyone saw it coming.

No one knew exactly what the Supreme Court would decide, but the trend was clear. In 2013 the high court had forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages and, in a separate case denied same-sex marriage opponents in California standing to contest a decision striking down the state's ban because they couldn't show they were harmed by the ruling.

A betting person could have reasonably wagered that before Davis' four-year term was out, same-sex marriage would be legal.

Still, Davis protests, "I never sought to be in this position, and I would much rather not have been placed in this position."

Leaving aside the obvious point that office holders aren't exempted from honoring those laws that go into effect after they're elected, Davis did seek to be in this position.

She had every reason to know her job could soon include issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples when she waged two campaigns and a considerable sum of money in pursuit of the $80,000-a-year post.

It's unfortunate she has dragged the rest of Kentucky into this notorious mess with her.

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