Where religious freedom ends: Why a Kentucky clerk has no right to deny gay marriage licenses

Kim Davis can't appeal to God over the heads of the country's political institutions and expect to get away with it

The unknown road.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Theo Allofs/Corbis)

It takes time for the culture and political system to assimilate a landmark Supreme Court decision. In the two months since the court declared a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, some opponents of gay marriage have gone into a panic, declaring the End of Religious Freedom in America. That reaction is both overwrought and premature. The fact is that we don't yet know how the law will adjust to the new constitutional order of things — though two decisions announced this week give us some hints about where the debate may be headed.

On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to allow a Kentucky county clerk named Kim Davis to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that doing so violates her deeply held religious beliefs. (Actually, in an interesting twist, Davis had stopped issuing licenses to all couples, gay or straight.) A stay that had been in effect until Monday pending Davis' appeal of a federal court ruling against her has therefore been allowed to expire, requiring her to begin issuing marriage licenses immediately — despite the fact that, according to her lawyer, "this searing act of validation [of same-sex marriage] would forever echo in her conscience." (As of midday Tuesday, she was openly defying the court by refusing, "under God's authority," to issue the licenses.)

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Damon Linker

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also a former contributing editor at The New Republic and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.