Press Secretary Mouth of Sauron Josh Earnest is putting me at risk.
A little background: in the wake of the Obergefell ruling by the Supreme Court that forces the entire nation to permit same-sex marriages, there’s been some push-back by state governments and local officials who claim with some justification that this violates the religious liberty of local officials who view same-sex marriage as sinful. And, as a nation that often has granted exemptions for strongly held beliefs (conscientious objectors and military service, for example), a debate has grown about whether and how to accommodate these people. A county clerk in Kentucky brought the matter to a head recently:
A Kentucky county clerk who has become a symbol of religious opposition to same-sex marriage was jailed Thursday after defying a federal court order to issue licenses to gay couples.
The clerk, Kim Davis of Rowan County, Ky., was ordered detained for contempt of court and later rejected a proposal to allow her deputies to process same-sex marriage licenses that could have prompted her release.
Instead, on a day when one of Ms. Davis’s lawyers said she would not retreat from or modify her stand despite a Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Judge David L. Bunning of United States District Court secured commitments from five of Ms. Davis’s deputies to begin providing the licenses. At least two couples planned to seek marriage licenses Friday.
(Good on the NYT for mentioning later in the article that Davis is a Democrat, though they did bury that fact a bit.)
To be brief (and I’m sure you want me to get to the point), I think Ms. Davis is in the wrong here, even though I sympathize with her concerns about her religion. (1) I think the judge, who himself disagrees with Obergefell, was left with no choice but to jail her for her obduracy. It may be a small case, but the rule of law was at issue here. Granting her an exemption while letting her deputies issue licenses to gay couples would not have been sufficient; she is, after all, en elected official sworn to uphold the law and, like it or not, Obergefell is the law. That is her obligation as a public servant. The correct action would have been for her to resign in protest and in her resignation letter make her objections clear.
So, naturally, this became a national brouhaha –that NYT article was front page, for Pete’s sake– and, where there is national attention to be had, the White House has to weigh in. And they did so with this jaw-dropper:
The White House said today that the Kentucky county clerk taken into custody over her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses should obey the law just as President Obama does.
Press secretary Josh Earnest, asked at today’s briefing about the jailing of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for contempt, said “ultimately I think that this is something that the courts will weigh in on.”
But, he said, “the question of the rule of law” is at stake.
“And every public official in our democracy is subject to the rule of law. No one is above the law. That applies to the president of the United States and that applies to the County Clerk and Rowan County, Kentucky, as well,” Earnest said. “And that’s a fundamental principal of our democracy. In terms of how that applies to this particular case? That’s obviously something that a judge will have to decide. And I would not second guess it from here.”
I’m amazed that he didn’t choke to death from trying to keep from laughing here. I actually agree with Josh Earnest that the rule of law is at issue here. It’s a shame his boss doesn’t know the meaning of the words. Let’s consider just a few examples:
- Obamacare waivers
- Multiple far-reaching regulations (EPA, NLRB, FCC) issued with no statutory authority
- Racially biased enforcement of our civil rights laws on voting
- The Libya war, in violation of the War Powers Act
- Operation Fast & Furious
- Failure to produce budgets by the statutory deadline — or at all
- Non-enforcement of our immigration laws
- Ignoring the treaty clause of the Constitution
- Ignoring congressional demands for information in violation of Congress’ oversight powers
All of this just screams “respect for the rule of law,” and I’m sure you can come up with others.
How Earnest avoided a lightning bolt from above for this one, I don’t know. I guess even God was gobsmacked.
(1) For the record, I both support allowing same-sex marriage and I think Obergefell was a terrible decision.