The anti-gay Alliance Defending Freedom is now encouraging local officials in Maine, Maryland, and Washington to arbitrarily reject the advance of marriage equality and choose not to grant licenses to same-sex couples. The group’s legal memos advise that the states’ clerks and auditors can delegate responsibility to deputies or assistants so that they do not have to violate their faith or conscience. ADF Senior Counsel Austin R. Nimocks explains:
NIMOCKS: No American should be forced to give up a constitutionally protected freedom, nor should any American be forced to give up his or her job to maintain that freedom. Religious freedom is paramount to every American, including those issuing marriage licenses. They can perform their job without violating their conscience.
This definition of religious freedom is quite a stretch. There’s a significant difference between one’s freedom not to participate in a same-sex marriage and one’s violation of job requirements to discriminate against citizens’ legal rights. It’s quite possible that a clerk’s assistants also oppose marriage equality, which could lead to whole towns denying same-sex couples marriage certificates. At the very least — as happened in New York last year — if an assistant is not available on a given day, couples could still be denied their legal right to marriage until a day someone else is in the office.
For some of these local officials, the advance of marriage equality will undoubtedly feel like a change to their job responsibilities. If they are no longer able or willing to perform all the functions of the job, they should acknowledge this by stepping down, not by imposing their own willful discrimination on gay and lesbian neighbors.