In a section of its 2012 party platform, the Republican Party made its views clear: “In this country, the rule of law guarantees equal treatment to every individual.” But at least six Republican presidential hopefuls have now come to the defense of anti-gay Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis, who will face contempt charges on Thursday for violating a court order by refusing to issue marriage licenses. A smaller number of Republican presidential candidates have said that as a public official, Davis should have to do her job or resign.
Davis, who is the elected Rowan County County Clerk, has refused to issue any marriage licenses in an attempt to avoid issuing them to same-sex couples. A federal court ordered her to carry out her legal duty and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected her request to put that order on hold, but a defiant Davis has thus far refused, citing “God’s authority.”
Though many of the same Republican presidential candidates have been outspoken critics of lawlessness by government officials, several have rushed to defend Davis and suggested that religious beliefs should be legal grounds for public officials to opt-out of certain parts of their jobs.
Candidates Defending Davis
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: In a Wednesday radio interview with Laura Ingraham, Christie acknowledged that “someone who works in the government has a bit of a different obligation than someone who’s in the private sector or obviously working for educational institutions that’s religiously based or others,” but opined that “we have to protect religious liberty and people’s ability to be able to practice their religion freely and openly, and of course we have to enforce the law too.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Cruz denounced a “war on faith” and wrote: “We should make it possible for believers, such as Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis in Kentucky, to hold government jobs without having to violate their religious beliefs. We can work together to come up with alternative ways to ensure that government functions are accomplished without infringing on religious liberty.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: In a statement on Tuesday, Huckabee said, “I spoke with Kim Davis this morning to offer my prayers and support. I let her know how proud I am of her for not abandoning her religious convictions and standing strong for religious liberty. She is showing more courage and humility than just about any federal office holder in Washington.” Huckabee further argued that since the Supreme Court does not have the authority to make law, it would be unconstitutional for Davis to issue same-sex marriage licenses. “I stand with Kim Davis and every American of faith under attack by Washington elites who have nothing but disdain for us, our faith and the Constitution,” he concluded.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: Jindal told the Huffington Post that Davis should not have to resign or to issue licenses to same-sex couples: “I don’t think anyone should have to choose between following their conscience and religious beliefs and giving up their job and facing financial sanctions. I think it’s wrong to force Christian individuals or business owners. We are seeing government today discriminate against whether it’s clerks, florists, musicians or others. I think that’s wrong. I think you should be able to keep your job and follow your conscience. I absolutely do believe people have a First Amendment right, a constitutional right. I don’t think the court can take that away.”
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: On Boston Herald Radio, Paul said Monday that government should not have any role in marriage licensing and that specifically he objects “to the state putting its imprimatur to the specialness of marriage on something that’s different from what most people have defined as marriage for most of history.” He defended Davis, arguing, “I think people who do stand up and are making a stand to say that they believe in something is an important part of the American way.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: In a statement to the New York Times, Rubio called for “a balance between government’s responsibility to abide by the laws of our republic and allowing people to stand by their religious convictions.” Noting that the clerk’s office has a “governmental duty to carry out the law,” he urged that, “there should be a way to protect the religious freedom and conscience rights of individuals working in the office.” He added that the nation “was founded on the human right of religious freedom, and our elected leaders have a duty to protect that right by ensuring that no one is forced by the government to violate their conscience and deeply held religious beliefs about traditional marriage.”
Candidates Backing Rule of Law
Former California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina: On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show, Fiorina urged Davis to follow the law or resign: “While I disagree with this court’s decision, their actions are clear. And so I think in this particular case, this woman now needs to make a decision that’s [about] conscience: Is she prepared to continue to work for the government, be paid for by the government, in which case she needs to execute the government’s will, or does she feel so strongly about this that she wants to sever her employment with the government and go seek employment elsewhere where her religious liberties would be paramount over her duties as a government employee?”
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: In a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Graham said that as a public official Davis must “comply with the law or resign.” “The rule of law is the rule of law,” he argued, “That’s what we are. We are a rule of law nation, and I appreciate her conviction. I support traditional marriage, but she’s accepted a job where she has to apply the law to everyone. And that’s her choice.”
Three more hopefuls expressed their general support for Davis on Thursday. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters that while Davis is "sworn to uphold the law," he believes that "there ought to be common ground, there ought to be a big enough space for her to act on her conscience, and for now that the law is the law of the land, for a gay couple to be married in whatever jurisdiction that is.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told Laura Ingraham: “It’s a balance that you’ve got to have in America between the laws that are out there, but ultimately ensuring the Constitution is upheld. I read that the Constitution is very clear, that people have the freedom of religion. That means you have the freedom to practice your religious beliefs out there.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said in a statement, "I have great respect for Ms. Davis' and her courage to stand up for her faith. In America we should not have to choose between keeping our job and practicing our faith," and said on CNN on Friday that "what Kim Davis did is heroic."
Real estate investor Donald Trump declined to weigh-in on Davis at a press conference on Thursday, saying he did not know enough about it to comment.