With the stated intent to preserve the religious freedom of government officials (and, presumably, to avoid legal hot water regarding the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling), Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin has issued an executive order that a new marriage license be created for that state, one that does not mention the name of the clerk executing the document. The question arises: Is this a good way to cast a little oil upon the roiling waters set to boiling by Kim Davis and give everyone a little breathing space, or is this a way for cultural and religious dinosaurs to drag their feet and at least slow the progress of LGBT rights?
Once upon a time in the United States, there was no legal recognition of a union between two women or two men. LGBT couples who wanted to call themselves married did so without the support of—or, in fact, any kind of acknowledgement by—government. Then in the year 2000, Vermont created an instrument called a civil union that could be entered into by gay couples. Other states followed, putting into place civil union and domestic partnership laws.
To some in the LGBT community, this seemed like a good thing. Maybe it wasn’t “real” marriage, but it was a step in the right direction. And now that the unions were legally recognized, gay people would have an opportunity to demonstrate that they were just as capable as straight couples (and, as it has turned out, possibly even more capable) of maintaining the married state. After all, wasn’t tolerance better than hatred?
To others, this separate-and-unequal treatment felt like a slap in the face, or worse. They weren’t interested in being tolerated. They insisted on full acceptance and labeled as cowardly anyone who said they were pushing for too much too soon. They demanded to be recognized as full citizens with all associated rights and privileges, and—while they were at it—as real human beings alive on the face of the planet.
In 2004, this second group—those not willing to be tolerated—began to see light at the end of the tunnel when the Massachusetts State Supreme Court ruled that denying any citizen full marriage rights was inconsistent with the state Constitution. In the ensuing years, state after state went in one direction or the other, with some following the lead of Massachusetts and some amending state constitutions to ban “gay marriage.” The gap between these two directions was bridged legally by Obergefell v. Hodges. The cultural/religious gap remains and even seems to be widening.
Smack in the middle of this gap is Kim Davis, the Kentucky Rowan County clerk who has been refusing to issue licenses to LGBT couples and/or altering the licenses themselves to omit the name of the county and the name of any clerk. And it seems Governor Bevin, with the executive order, is following her lead.
So is Bevin throwing oil on the waters, as he claims? Is he allowing LGBT couples in Kentucky a separate-but-unequal counterpart to a marriage license that will protect them from the fury of Kim Davis and her ilk, or is he denying them, yet again, full citizens’ rights?
What are the ramifications of a marriage license that lacks the names of those in authority to issue it? Will it be valid in other states? Would it withstand a legal challenge? Does it leave a crack through which someone—or some government—could refuse the rights due to a legally married couple because the document lacks authority?
And here’s an interesting question: Whom is Bevin trying to placate with this executive order? With this executive order in place, who is it who’s being tolerated? Is it LGBT couples who are being singled out yet again for separate treatment, or is it the Kim Davises of the world—those who insist on living in a separate reality from what’s just outside their doors?
I say let’s reject tolerance. All citizens deserve full acceptance and full rights, and all who would deny those rights should be openly declared to be the bigots that they are. For they meet the very definition of bigotry: the reserving of a right or privilege for one group of people to the exclusion of another for no reason other than the opinion of the first group. Bigotry it is, and Governor Bevins is not just encouraging it. He’s codifying it.