It’s finally public: during his recent visit to Washington, D.C., Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs. It was apparently kept quiet so it did not dominate the press coverage of the papal visit, where he clearly had other agendas. But the two did meet, reportedly for about 15 minutes, a long time in a papal schedule. (For the record, Davis is not Catholic; she is a Pentecostal Apostolic Christian.)
Public or not, I am troubled by this meeting clearly meant to express support for Davis. But I am not surprised. First, Pope Francis has been highly ambivalent when speaking on any aspect of LGBT issues. From “Who am I to judge?” -- when he seemed supportive of the LGBT community -- to his opposition to same sex marriage, he has opposed LGBT rights.
But second, Pope Francis does not seem to understand the meaning of “religious liberty” in the U.S. context. In her private life as an American citizen, Kim Davis is free to oppose same sex marriage... in her church, in her family, with signs in her yard, even at public demonstrations -- if she wants.
But her job -- her particular job -- is a different story. She is an elected public office holder who took an oath to uphold the law. Now, the highest court in the land has legalized same sex marriage nationwide. Obviously, she did not agree, but her job and her oath now require that she issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. Refusing to do that is not an exercise of religious liberty, but an act of discrimination in the eyes of the law. It is also a violation of her oath of office.
Same-sex couples today have the same right to a marriage license as heterosexual couples. If that is a problem for her, she has (and had) an option other than jail: she could resign her office and find other employment. That’s not easy, granted, but the law has changed and times have changed.
Apparently, she has found another way around that by allowing her staff to issue such licenses, put a signature other than hers on the form, and look the other way.
But I wonder if Francis understands all this about her case.