Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Something I'd Never Thought Of ...

A couple of weeks ago, I had lunch with my friends JW and J.  J and I had planned to eat together, and JW, who works near the coffee shop/cafe, arrived not long after and we invited him to join us.  J and I were talking about the Iowa Supreme Court marriage ruling, and she asked me to share my thoughts concerning the arguments that Polk County had put forward.

"Marriage is to make babies, and 'we've always done it this way'" was my snarky summation.  We laughed at the ridiculousness of it, and I noted that I thought it strange that the Polk County recorder had let a relatively inarticulate and obviously out-of-his-depth ADA argue the case.  JW, a local attorney, said, "Well, maybe that was on purpose.  The DA has to enforce the law as it is on the books, but ... maybe they wanted the plaintiffs to win.  It's not like counties never hire outside counsel for cases like this."  

I confess I'd never considered this possibility.  Could it have been that the Polk County recorder and DA wanted to get this case to the SC, and wanted this discriminatory law overturned?  All of a sudden, I was filled with gratitude for this potential legal strategy.  Since I don't know the Polk County recorder, nor their DA, I can't say for sure.  But this actually sounds pretty plausible to me.  Why didn't the DA hire outside counsel for this case - one with national implications?  I am sure there are tons of organizations who could have pleaded (pled?) this case for the DA, maybe even pro bono.  Crazy!

This is relevant because, of course, some local county recorders are trying to get out of their legal obligations by claiming their opposition to same-sex marriage is religious in nature.   (I think Jocelyn over at wtf would jesus do? or someone at Street Prophets pointed out yesterday that these same people also oppose re-marriage on religious grounds, but they seem to have no problems processing those requests.)  Yeah, not so much, according to the state AG.

Here's the thing: when you work for the government, you are not allowed to discriminate, even if your religious beliefs support discrimination.  When you take an oath to discharge certain duties, you are legally bound to discharge those duties even when you don't like it.  If you decide that you can no longer discharge those duties in good conscience, you are not able to live up to the oath of office you took.  One is not legally required to work for the state, so if working for the state violates your conscience...well, find a new job that doesn't.  It's really not that difficult.

As a local school board member, I'm required in that capacity to uphold the state constitution, not to uphold the Bible.  If I have a religious objection to something, I can't simply say "my religion forbids me to do this, or require me to do this."  I must find a legitimate legal reason to object; or I must abstain.  And if there's a large divide between my personal religious beliefs and my legal duties, I need to consider resigning my position.

I'll be interested to see how this plays out, as next Monday is when counties have to (or get to!!!) start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  A part of me suspects this is a tempest in a teapot, or attempts to stir up trouble where there isn't any, really.....but, we'll see.

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