Saturday, November 14, 2015

Why I don't endorse Kim Davis

Let me clarify something. I make a sharp distinction between a legal concept of marriage and a moral one, or a religious one. There may be reasons for governmentally defined marriage to include marriages that might fail to meet moral standards. So even if someone accepts a moral case against gay relationships, this does not guarantee that the government shouldn't recognize such marriages. You need something else. 

This has the support of one who has a lot of authority in the Christian tradition: 

Matthew 19:1-9
After Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went southward to the region of Judea and into the area east of the Jordan River. Vast crowds followed him there, and he healed their sick. Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: "Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife for any reason?" "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning `God made them male and female.' And he said, `This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together." "Then why did Moses say a man could merely write an official letter of divorce and send her away?" they asked. Jesus replied, "Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness, but it was not what God had originally intended. And I tell you this, a man who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery--unless his wife has been unfaithful." 


This seems to me to suggest that the law can be justified, for its own reasons, in accepting relationships as marriages which are, in the final analysis, not fully moral. 

Here is C. S. Lewis on the legal-moral distinction. 

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is quite the different question—how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.
My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christian and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.
Now let me apply this to the case of Kim Davis. I am very much opposed to people being forced to provide speech on behalf of marriages they disapprove of, if they are in wedding service occupations. However, signing a marriage license does nothing more than affirm the legal status of these marriages, and does not entail moral approval. Unless she really has a legal argument that she doesn't have to sign those licenses, she really doesn't have a defensible position. 

15 comments:

JaredMithrandir said...

You might enjoy some of my articles on the subject

http://solascripturachristianliberty.blogspot.com/2015/05/the-state-church-and-marriage.html

http://solascripturachristianliberty.blogspot.com/2015/05/there-is-no-marriage-ritual-in-bible.html

http://solascripturachristianliberty.blogspot.com/2015/05/marriage-licence-vs-marriage-covenant.html

planks length said...

Victor,

I think there is more gray to the Kim Davis issue than your analysis considers. Imagine that tomorrow the Supreme Court decides that there is a constitutional right to euthanasia, and Kentucky says that a doctor must get a certificate signed by a county clerk before he can kill his patient. Would you then think that Ms. Davis ought to just hold her nose and sign the preemptive death certificates, because it's "the law"?

JaredMithrandir said...

There is an inherent difference between a life or death scenario and how people chose to live their lives.

Philo Lehmar said...

What if one thinks legally recognized same-sex relationships are not marriages at all?

Dave Duffy said...

If the culture decides that a marriage between a 50 year old man and a 10 year old girl is justified, and the law soon follows, I would support a Kim Davis for neither stepping down or signing the licence.

planks length said...

There is an inherent difference between a life or death scenario and how people chose to live their lives.

I take it from this comment that you would support a person refusing to sign a death warrant, while not supporting a person refusing to sign a same sex "marriage" certificate. Then we are agreed that there are lines a person must not cross. All we are debating is where those lines should be drawn. But the principle of certain things being "beyond the pale" is recognized. Therefore, it is both possible and rational to make a defense for Kim Davis, although perhaps not one that all would agree to.

Gyan said...

Victor,
Complementarity is essential to a marriage. Otherwise, the word "marriage" itself is empty of all meaning.

Your position is nominalism, not to mention legal positivism. As such it is irrational.
If not, please define "marriage" such that it includes same-sex relationship.

That A could be stretched to include B does not mean that it could be stretched to include anything at all.

oozzielionel said...

When A is stretched to include not-A, then A includes everything.

Son of Ya'Kov said...

Signing a marriage license in an official capacity does constitute moral endorsement & thus no
orthodox Christian should do it under any circumstance in regards to so called same sex marriage.

Thus the only fair solution I see is to legally take it out of the hands of clerks and put it in the hands of Clergy and or secular Justices of the Peace. They alone should sign the marriage license and Ms. Davis & other Christian clerks don't have to be burdened or even involved and any gay couple can "marry" at will.

This is the only sane solution.

Crude said...

Victor,

I respect you, and I have faith you don't come to this position flippantly. That means I have to deal with your view on the matter with care.

Putting aside what others have said, let me ask you one thing. You say: Unless she really has a legal argument that she doesn't have to sign those licenses, she really doesn't have a defensible position.

Do you think that's the only real relevant part to be concerned about here? I mean, you talk about a 'legal argument'. But what about a cultural argument? An intellectual argument?

A lot of people think the 'legal argument' approach is a rigged game. The SCOTUS found the right to same-sex marriage right in the constitution - and to call that 'absurd' is putting it mildly. Yet at the same time, you're saying that they need a legal argument to advance their case. What do legal arguments matter in a world where the SCOTUS can find what it did?

Let me put it another way. If Richard Dawkins was the one interpreting the laws, would you place much emphasis on Christians having a legal case to be justified in their resistance to this or that law? Or is there a point at which you start to sympathize with the idea that defiance of the law deserves some thought?

Mr. Green said...

Victor: I make a sharp distinction between a legal concept of marriage and a moral one, or a religious one.

Do you make a sharp distinction between the moral concept of a human being, and a legal one? (E.g. one which, say, excludes blacks or Jews or babies?) I mean, any law written with such exclusions clearly is distinct from the true concept of a person, but does that give us an excuse to "just follow orders" or does it for that very reason demand that we resist the law?

"Moses permitted divorce as a concession to your hard-hearted wickedness"

But this doesn't suggest that any law relating to marriage, however wrong, should simply be shrugged off. In fact, it's not clear that it applies at all, since it has been argued that the Israelites effectively received a special dispensation from God in this case; but even if not, being "permitted" to do something does not make it right to participate (e.g. God permits all sins that occur insofar as He does not physically prevent them) — let alone force someone to participate against his conscience. And besides, remarriage after divorce is not contrary to the nature of matrimony in itself — the problem lies in the circumstances of the previous marriage; whereas here we have something that doesn't qualify as matrimony under any conditions.

"At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine."

(Perhaps Lewis would reconsider if he saw the drunken yobbo culture spreading through Britain today....)

"The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

Then surely at the very least there needs to be a different word for it. A distinction cannot in any reasonable sense be considered "sharp" if it is muddled in with something completely different. Of course, Lewis was considering something that could still reasonably be called marriage, even if a defective form. A sick man is rightly called a man; an ape — even a healthy one — is not.

However, signing a marriage license does nothing more than affirm the legal status of these marriages, and does not entail moral approval. Unless she really has a legal argument that she doesn't have to sign those licenses, she really doesn't have a defensible position.

That can mean at most (and even this is not a given) that she does not have a legally defensible position, i.e. "just follow orders" no matter what. As Yakov's son points out, an official signature surely constitutes some degree of endorsement. But this also ignores the fact that this is not the job she was hired to do. The alleged requirements have been changed out from under her, and not because the nature of the work changed and she no longer possessed the necessary skills. You would have somewhat of a point (still not enough, but something) if this had been part of the job description when she took the position, but it's shocking to say she should be fired for not throwing her Christian principles under the bus.

Victor Reppert said...

She was put in office under the assumption that she would be executing the law, not making it. She cannot be expected to know in advance whether the law will be morally acceptable or not. There are possible laws which make it impossible to be part of a government that executes them, and if that happens, the moral thing to do is to resign from the government office one occupies.

Victor Reppert said...

But I have to wonder what, say, a traditional Catholic would think of signing marriage certificates for remarried couples.

What if you are confronted with a couple who you know began as an extramarital affair?

SRV said...

Re-title your blog: "Dangerous Baloney" The Lies of Vic Reppert.

Mr. Green said...

Victor Reppert: She cannot be expected to know in advance whether the law will be morally acceptable or not.

That seems a rather low bar. Does that mean that only people with no principles can work for the government? (That might explain a few things...) Certainly there have been many cases of people who resigned from positions, public or private, in order not to sacrifice their principles, and I agree that there are certainly cases where that is the right thing to do. But if that's the only way, then bad policies become a way to drive Christians (or other groups) out of public office altogether.

But I have to wonder what, say, a traditional Catholic would think of signing marriage certificates for remarried couples.

There are many differences, but that would be a problem in the general case. Often, an official would be unaware of the details behind the remarriage, but not always. (I guess Thomas More counts as a traditional Catholic who wouldn't give in on divorce.)