Since 2009, I've carried out my duties to the letter of the law. I take my job seriously and am happy to serve the people of my county, whether helping people to license and register their vehicles, record land documents or obtain marriage licenses.
First, please know that I don't always agree with all of the laws that direct my office. For example, I believed that denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples was unconstitutional long before the recent Supreme Court decision. However, I followed the law before the decision and I follow it after. Period.
All county clerks knew that this change was likely to occur and had ample time to plan accordingly. The truth is that all clerks had the freedom to choose whether to run for election or to find a new vocation. I chose to serve as Fayette County clerk with my eyes wide open, knowing that laws can change and that there are some duties that I may find distasteful.
The discussion regarding marriage for same-sex couples must be returned to the law, to reason, and with our eyes toward a future that is inclusive. I would like to clear up a few misconceptions that have been playing in the media from various sources and then offer a way forward.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
On June 26, the highest court in the land ruled that same-sex couples can be legally wed in all 50 states. Gov. Steve Beshear ordered the Department of Library and Archives to immediately modify the license form and most Kentucky clerks began to issue the new licenses. The governor cannot order a clerk to comply. We complied solely because the law that governs our offices changed based on the ruling.
Later, it was suggested that the function of issuing licenses be placed "online" or moved to another state agency. These options completely misunderstand the role of clerks like me and the purpose of recording marriages in the first place, and would simply shift any religious objection from one person to another.
My role isn't a religious one. When I issue a license or record a marriage, it's an administrative act.
In fact, lost in this discussion is that a marriage license is actually a permanent record like a birth certificate or death certificate. It contains vital statistics that will be used by the government and researchers for centuries to come, and it stands in addition to and aside from any religious ceremony a couple might choose.
Although some have suggested that the government simply get out of marriage altogether, there are very practical reasons why we, as a society, want to confer the numerous benefits of marriage. The Supreme Court has simply said that these benefits must be available to all, equally.
So what should we do?
I support a simple review of the form to insure that we capture the data that we want to preserve for future generations. In addition, I believe that the name or names of the official recording the document should remain because that too is an important element.
Most importantly, I believe that the issuance of marriage licenses should stay exactly where it is. The county clerk is the steward of the county's permanent records. It is the clerk's duty to properly identify both parties and to accurately record the vital statistics.
We have been recording marriage bonds, "minister's returns" and marriage licenses in Fayette County for 220 years. I am honored to continue that stewardship, upholding my constitutional oath as it was meant to be.