Marriage license more than just paper

Kim Davis is in the wrong business.

The Rowan County clerk used tears and impossibly confused reasoning in an interview with ABC News about her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in defiance of the Supreme Court ruling earlier this year and the order of a U.S. district judge.

ABC's Paula Faris showed a clip of one gay man saying he finally felt "human" after getting his marriage license. How did Davis balance her conscience with that man's feelings? Faris asked.

"I feel really sad that someone could be so unhappy with themselves as a person that they did not feel dignified as a human being until they got a piece of paper," Davis answered.

The duties of county clerks include issuing and recording various legal records, registering voters and conducting elections. They keep track of pieces of paper.

Why Davis, who this year succeded her mother as county clerk and has herself worked in the office for decades, diminishes those pieces papers is a mystery.

But beyond that, Davis — like so many trying to raise money, their profiles and presumably votes with this wedge issue du jour — ignores the fact that a marriage license is more than just a blessing.

As the Supreme Court and many lower courts have taken pains to note, our society has endorsed marriage with a host of civil benefits.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II listed some of the things denied same-sex couples in his decision last year striking down Kentucky's ban:

"A same-sex surviving spouse has no right to an inheritance tax exemption and thus must pay higher death taxes. They are not entitled to the same health-care benefits as opposite-sex couples; a same-sex spouse must pay to add their spouse to their employer-provided health insurance, while opposite-sex spouses can elect this option free of charge. Same-sex spouses and their children are excluded from intestacy laws governing the disposition of estate assets upon death. Same-sex spouses and their children are precluded from recovering loss of consortium damages in civil litigation following a wrongful death. Under Kentucky's workers compensation law, same-sex spouses have no legal standing to sue and recover as a result of their spouse's fatal workplace injury."

"Just as a couple vows to support each other, so does society pledge to support the couple, offering symbolic recognition and material benefits to protect and nourish the union," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority in the June 26 Supreme Court decision.

"By virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives."

It's a piece of paper that carries enormous weight, changes lives and fortunes.

Religious bodies will always have the right in this country to decide which unions they will bless but that's not the job of government. The state must play fair: what's good for one family is good for another.