Kim Davis, county clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, has been in the news a lot lately for her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses, a part of her job. Much of the commentary has centered on Ms. Davis as an individual, rather than as a government employee.
I don’t care how many times she’s been married. I don’t care who the biological father of her children is. I don’t care that her fashion sense is sad and plain and overly modest. If she had been married four times to three men with twins of contested origin and issued same-sex marriage licenses while wearing a mumu, I still wouldn’t care. If she was gorgeous and dressed fashionably and had never been married, I still wouldn’t care.
What I care about is her refusal to perform her job duties, specifically as they relate to same-sex couples wanting to get married. Her professional behavior is wrong, and that’s what I care about. All this focus on her personal life is a distraction, and a largely sexist one at that. Would we be mocking her appearance and her sex life so willingly if she was a man? I’m not sure.
While Ms. Davis’ religious beliefs may inform her actions, her beliefs are not the problem. Her actions are. Everyone is permitted to have beliefs, including wrong ones or bigoted ones or factually inaccurate ones. What everyone is not permitted to do is behave however they want, whether that behavior is informed by beliefs or not.
I think we should focus on her professional conduct, because it’s the real issue, and because these distractions give ground to the opposition. Making the issue about her beliefs, rather than her actions, keeps the discussion focused on religion and religious freedom, even though this is a secular issue. If she had all the same beliefs but slightly different behavior – specifically, if she was issuing same-sex marriage licences – we wouldn’t even be talking about her. Her beliefs are not the issue. Her behavior is.