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Gay Marriage and Religious Freedom

This story out of Ledyard, New York, which is a very small town just up the lake from Ithaca, is interesting for a number of reasons. The gist of it is that the town clerk, a self-described "Bible-believing Christian," believes that signing the marriage licenses of same-sex couples would violate her religious convictions. Since New York law requires her to issue those licenses, she has delegated the task of signing them to a deputy clerk. As a result, marriage licenses are only available in Ledyard with a prior appointment. A lesbian couple moved into town from Miami, sought a marriage license and then refused to wait for an appointment, preferring instead to file a lawsuit. On one side is People for the American Way, representing the couple. On the other side is the Alliance Defense Fund. So, first off, this is one of those stories that makes you just sigh, for lots of reasons, which I won't go into because they seem pretty obvious. What the story does bring out, though, is something that will be very different about same-sex couples' push for civil rights from other civil rights movements we've seen over the past few decades.{C}

Although there have always been churches and religious institutions that have espoused racial hatred or supremacy or separation of some sort or another, and although some of the arguments people raised in favor of Jim Crow were religious, they were (and even more so now, are) mostly on the fringe of both society and Christian thought. The bulk of opposition to civil rights was rooted in uncritical tradition and custom. In addition, there was a critical mass—perhaps the bulk of—Christian theological opinion on the side of civil rights. What we see with same sex marriage is somewhat different. There are religious people (myself included) who favor marriage rights for same-sex couples. And most of us can even make religious arguments in favor of our position. But the center of gravity of the pro-marriage position is decidedly secular. On the other side is an opposition that is expressed in almost purely religious terms. And, while I disagree with their theological arguments on theological grounds, I can admit that their position represents the historical mainstream of Christian thinking on homosexuality, one that has prevailed for many, many generations. However one wants to characterize the views of anti-same-sex-marriage advocates, it is impossible to relegate it to the fringe of Christian thought, even contemporary Christian thought. So this sets up a dilemma for same-sex marriage rights that civil rights in other contexts have not had to confront as seriously. Of course,there have been individuals who have claimed a right to discriminate on the grounds of race or, more commonly, gender, for religious reasons. But those claims have been easier to sideline. The fight over marriage is different. Even though it is clear that public opinion is moving in the direction of acceptance of same sex marriage, my sense is that opposition is likely to remain entrenched among religious conservatives.

On its face, the Ledyard town clerk's solution—delegating the task she finds objectionable to a deputy clerk who is willing to perform the duty—seems to strike a reasonable balance. Same sex (and straight) couples in Ledyard get their marriage licenses, and the town clerk can keep her job while remaining faithful to her religious convictions. I can certainly understand the offense that the plaintiffs took upon learning the reasons for the requirement that they make an appointment to receive their marriage license. But, since a straight couple has to go through exactly the same appointment process, I am struggling to understand the deep principle that is at stake. The general counsel of Peope for the American Way says that the town clerk's religious convictions don't give her "the right to use them to relieve herself from doing a major part of her duties." I understand what she is saying as a legal matter—thanks to Employment Division v. Smith, the legal entitlement to special treatment under the Free Exercise Clause has been dramatically narrowed. But I'm more interested in the substance of the matter. What is the genuine harm of allowing the town clerk to delegate this task, as long as the task gets done, albeit with some delay, and as long as it gets done equally for same-sex and straight couples?

About the Author

Eduardo Moisés Peñalver is the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Cornell Law School. He is the author of numerous books and articles on the subjects of property and land use law.

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Yes, King Henry refused to understand too.

If you stood in line with a document to be signed, let's say a driver's license form, and when you finally got to the window the clerk said come back tomorrow, what would you say? WHY? Answer: because my religious beliefs prevent me from serving men. Or Catholics. Or people with tildes in their ames. No genuine harm done, right?

Yes, but that's not what happened in Ledyard, Gerelyn. They didn't single out same sex couples for the delay. They simply required ALL people seeking marriage licenses to make an appointment with the deputy clerk. I don't think I would be offended by that process, in and of itself. I understand why they took offense from the reasons for the implementation of the policy, but I guess I don't see the harm from the policy as such.

this is one of those stories that makes you just sigh, for lots of reasons, which I wont go into because they seem pretty obvious . . . the center of gravity of the pro-marriage position is decidedly secular. On the other side is an opposition that is expressed in almost purely religious terms. And, while I disagree with their theological arguments on theological grounds . . .__________________Actually, the knowledge of the truth of marriage, which some, in order to twist the argument might call "opposition" to "same-sex marriage," is founded entirely on historical and sociological grounds, as well as the ontology of the nature of the human person, none of which requires one to believe in God, much less Christ, to understand. However, in addition to these, there is that understanding derived from revelation, i.e. the religious understanding of marriage.And, actually, your "reasons" and your "theological grounds" are far from obvious. Please enlighten us, beyond sliming the Church (again) with your comparison to Jim Crow, etc., and beyond winks and nods.Just exactly what is your theology of the nature of man (male and female), including your theology of the nature of marriage?

I read it, even the inside part. I even asked my husband what he thought. (Forget what he said. Something about a recall to get her out of there.) She sounds like a jerk.

Bender -- you crack me up. This is not a post about the substance of the arguments for or against same-sex marriage. Whatever the merits of Robby George's arguments about the nature of marriage, most opponents of same-sex marriage (like the woman in this story) voice them in purely religious terms (she read from Romans to the reporter to explain her position). If you want to comment on the issue of religious freedom and marriage, please feel free to do so, but if you try to hijack this thread into an argument about the merits of gay marriage, I will begin to delete your comments from the thread.

This issue has been dealt with before and in fairly recent history. A judge in the south this past year, refused to marry a mixed race couple because of his "religious" beliefs. It was found that he was NOT allowed to do that. When a public employee who was hired to do a job for the public, ALL of the public, refuses to perform that job for whatever reason, that should be sufficient reason for termination. To say that religious objection to racial issues was held by the "fringe" of society is totally incorrect. Having grown up in the south, I was all too familiar with the stand main stream churches took toward segregation and mixed race marriage. One of the most out spoken was the very large Southern Baptist Convention whose member churches vehemently opposed mixed race marriage on "Biblical" grounds. Being one of the largest Protestant denominations, they can hardly be called "fringe". As will eventually happen in the case of same sex marriage, these groups will realize that scripture does not support their view.However, this country was founded upon the concept of a separation of church and state. Marriage is and always has been a civil matter in this country from the time of the Pilgrims where marriages were performed by magistrates, NOT clergy. In this case, no religion is required for marriage and none should be forced upon others. In essence, by refusing to acknowledge this civil law, this clerk is attempting to force HER personal views under the guise of religion on the general population.I would suggest that anyone is entitled to their beliefs but they should not be able to push those beliefs on others through their taxpayer paid, employment.

An intriguing legal and moral case. It raises for me, again, my discomfort with the robust "equality" principle that stands at the heart of (Rawlsian) liberalism - a principle articulated in the last sentence of the comment above:"I would suggest that anyone is entitled to their beliefs but they should not be able to push those beliefs on others through their taxpayer paid, employment."This characterization of deeply held moral belief as merely "private" when we disagree with it is troubling - not least of all because the same principle can be applied AGAINST same sex marriage (it seems to me). In other words, if we take this equality principle seriously, an opponent of same sex marriage can say to proponents, "You're entitled, of course, to your belief about marriage, but you should not be allowed to push that belief on the rest of us by seeking to legally redefine marriage." So this formulation of the principle just doesn't seem to move the ball very far because of course pushing a belief about something on other is precisely what we do in every legislative act.Moreover, the equality principle, rather than being wholly "neutral" as its proponents often tout, actually threatens to "flatten" out significant cultural differences between us, yet all in the name of diversity. That is a curious outcome. I would find proponents of same sex marriage (at least on Rawlsian equality grounds) much more convincing if, instead of seeking to marginalze dissenting views (which remains at roughly half of the country), would provide SOME modest accomodations to those who disagree with them. The Ledyard situation strikes me as a common sense, pragmatic accomodation.

Mickey -- I take your point about the Baptists. I guess I have my doubts about whether we'll see the same progression on gay marriage. I hope you're right. I think this case is different than the magistrate who refused to preside over mixed race marriages. This is a situation where the clerk is just delegating the marriage license task wholesale to a deputy. So she's not discriminating in the sense of picking and choosing which licenses to sign, though her reasons for delegating the task are admittedly discriminatory (she doesn't want to sign same-sex licenses). Would you feel the same way about, say, a police officer in a department that prohibits facial hair who does not want to shave his beard because he is a Sikh? The difference there is that the religious objection does not involve anyone else's rights, but is your position that there is no room for religious exemptions in public employment?

Eduardo - I agree with your analysis. It's a perceptive point that, because Christian opposition to same-sex marriage is a traditional and mainstream Christian belief, proponents of same-sex marriage will find it impossible to relegate opponents of the lunatic fringe. Both sides of the argument need to mentally prepare themselves for the reality that this will be many-decades, multi-generational, probably unresolvable divisiveness. Just like abortion.I also agree with you that the town clerk's accommodation to the state law is reasonable. MickeyC, in your view, do government employers ever have conscience rights that must be accommodated?I can't help wonder what it is about the Miami couple's situation that their wedding was so urgent that the marriage license couldn't wait a day. As presented here, it smells like ginned-up situation to provoke a lawsuit.

Though same-gender couples and heterosexual couples both receive the same treatment, they receive different treatment than couples in other parts of the state. That is unfair. I respect the clerk's religious freedom, however, if the task of issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples infringes on her religious beliefs, perhaps she should look for a job in an office where her tasks are more in line with her religious beliefs. Making other people suffer for her religious beliefs hardly seems fair.

Agree, Francis. Those who think the discrimination is reasonable should decide how far it can go. Can a clerk who believes heterosexual marriage is wrong get away with making heterosexual couples drive into town again when a clerk sympathetic to their orientation is on duty?

Thanks for a thoughtful post and an interesting (and thoughtful) thread.I think the following statement is likely accurate in the near future:"Even though it is clear that public opinion is moving in the direction of acceptance of same sex marriage, my sense is that opposition is likely to remain entrenched among religious conservatives."I wonder about the medium-to-long term future however (e.g., 10 to 30 years from now). There has been a slow and steady (about 1% a year, if I recall correctly) shift in public opinion---both nationally and in individual states---towards greater support for gay marriage/civil unions. That trend shows no signs of abating.Gay civil marriage may become a generational issue (even among religious conservatives), by which I mean that opposition, even among religious conservatives, may continue to ebb---particularly as those under 30 age and assume positions of power in their churches.

I'm not sure that I agree with the premise that previous civil rights battles had the opponents of those rights in a "fringe" position relative to mainstream Christian practice and theology. Just as one example, for Catholics, John McGreevy's classic Parish Boundaries argues exactly the opposite: that Catholic opponents of integration had, in addition to "uncritical custom and tradition," the weight of a lot of traditional theology on their side. This was opposed by a *different* group which was evolving a new and profoundly more egalitarian view of theology.

When I read the story this morning and saw that each side had a national advocacy group doing their legal work, I concluded that it was a set-up to test the law's conscience accommodation. Perhaps the town clerk's carefully crafted alternative of having a deputy was part of the set-up. Perhaps the women petitioners recently arrived from Miami were pointed to that particular town clerk. Will be interesting to see how the courts (up to the Supreme Court?) rule on this.As the story reported, a few town clerks in NYS resigned because they were opposed to the new law. Perhaps that is the easiest way out of the "rights" dilemma, and one supposes over time that potential candidates for town clerk will not stand for election if they have religious convictions opposed to same-sex marriage.Can we predict what the next set-up will be? The VFW that won't rent its facilities for a same-sex wedding reception?

Bender,You are a clear thinking person. Never waver in your defense of the truth.

One might claim that this country was founded on the very basic principle that individuals have a right to be different from others, that this is the very foundation of our freedoms. Well, one might say that, but it's a gross oversimplification, and it does not articulate what should happen when one person's freedom conflicts with another person's freedom. Granted, the Constitution doesn't say that we have an absolute right to all of our rights, to all of our freedoms. But then in cases such as these metaphysics rears its ugly head: what is an absolute right v. a relative right? Are any of our constitutional rights absolute? Or are they all relative -- that is, sometimes operable but sometimes not?If they are relative are some rights so to speak 'stronger" or 'more powerful' legally than others? IF so, how do we determine which relative right has a greater claim to legal protection than some other relative right? I think this is the problem this case presents.And what about the solution to such problems? ISTM that deciding the "stronger" right requires two considerations? Does the right require either party to DO something against his conscience as distinguished from REFRAINING from doing something when someone else can do what needs doing for the other person with the counter-right? (Yeah, complexity.) Why can one not simply refrain from effecting the counter-right? (That's the way I lean.) That solution allows the other person to DO what he/she has a right to do and the first person NOT to do what he/she has a right not to do. (Don't ask what if only one person can do what is at issue. There may be no solution to that one :-(The principles in the case, of course, are not trivial. Many of the social services provided by charities (e.g., adoption, certain medical proceedures, etc.) involve the very same issues. And so far the people with the right not-to-do are losing, as are all the people who are losing the opportunity to get good health care from religious hospitals

P. S. I think that in Eduardo's case the issue should be settled this way:If the applicant's have to come back to get the licence, it has cost them some inconveniece. If the registrar has to sign the paper, it will cost her her job. Less hard would be done by the latter, so it should be the choice.

Suppose the clerk delegates issuance of same-sex marriage licenses to an assistant clerk who is always on duty with the clerk during office hours, and appointments aren't necessary for obtaining licenses. Would that be an acceptable accommodation? On the basis of the single quote in the NYT's article, the lawyers for the same-sex couple seem focused not on the appointment issue, but on the clerk's blanket refusal to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples.

Good post, Eduardo -- "good," of course, meaning I agree with it! I read the piece this ayem with the same sigh. Seems like everyone (starting with the couple in question) is eager to put their principles on display rather than cultivate human solutions. That said, my sympathy for the town clerk doesn't extend too far. She seems to have such a narrow reading of the Bible that it only condemns relations between homosexuals, and not straight promiscuity and all of the other things she signs off on when she gives out marriage licenses for cohabitors and divorcees and the like. The clerk is not Catholic, but in her literalist reading of sacred texts no Catholic could perform her duties for people of another religion.

Sometime, I think that lawyers, plaintiffs, and defendants should practice, "Live and let live." Eduardo makes a good case that this is one of those times.

William C - I had the same thought you did re: making the assistant clerk more available. But apparently, solving the local logistics are secondary to what this case is really about.

Another distinction that needs to be made in this discussion is the difference between a right to *believe* or think and rights to act or not act. There is no question in this case that the registrar has a right to believe as she does. The issue is whether she has a right to not-act according to her religious belief. If the answer is no she has no such right, then this becomes true: the applicants have a right to demand that she perform a certain act in her job. (That, it might be said, reminds one of slavery.)Eduardo -- I don't think the issue is whether or not one has a right to discriminate at least in some circumstances. Obviously we do when we don't ask certain people to our parties, though in New Orleans that has become an issue with Mardi Gras organizations. That involves another (moral) question: when must we not discriminate?

The town clerk could always take the truly high road, admit that she cannot in good conscience carry out the duties of her job, & resign. A straight couple should join the same sex couple in the suit, since all are inconvenienced.

Jim P. --I suspect that what this case is really about is not just fairness for gay couples but the right of Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions. PFTAW's involvement suggest to me that that is the larger issue. This is a nice clear little case that would challenge the principles involved in the Catholic health care debates.

Actually a good deal of the inconvenience in town clerk's offices in small town like the one under discussion comes from budget constraints which permit them to be open only part-time. Everyone should sue! People wanting dog licenses, hunting licenses, marriage licenses, etc.

I join with Eduardo, David Gibson, and Margaret in thinking that litigating as many disagreements as the law allows is not a good way to promote a sense of the common good, which will always involve not pressing one's legal rights as far as possible. Good politics is about coming to agreement whenever possible, not about winning legal battles.In today's complex society, there will unavoidably be lots of battles about rights of one sort or another. I'm not complaining about that. I do think, though, that a person is a better citizen when he or she looks for ways to form a consensus than to go to trial. I may be mistaken, but I think I've heard that good judges always prefer settlements arrived at by the parties to trials.

This sort of conflict is bound to occur more frequently in the future as both traditional religion and traditional morality are increasingly sidelined in our secular societies. I suppose Christians will have their faith tested in an increasing number of tangible ways. Little martyrdoms. Or not so little. In this particular case, it's possible that the town clerk will be forced out of her job.Ann

Ann Olivier 09/28/2011 - 12:38 pm subscriberP. S. I think that in Eduardos case the issue should be settled this way:If the applicants have to come back to get the licence, it has cost them some inconveniece. If the registrar has to sign the paper, it will cost her her job. Less har[m] would be done by the latter, so it should be the choice.

seems to feel that if it came to that, she ought to just suck it up. Seems to me that's a big sacrifice to make, but in a society increasingly hostile to traditional religion and traditional morality, she may have no choice.Ann, are you comfortable with people's consciences being depreciated like this? That is, are you comfortable living in a society in which conscience is treated as of little more importance than, say, consumer preference?

Can we predict what the next set-up will be? The VFW that wont rent its facilities for a same-sex wedding reception?----------Maybe the "next set-up" will be this afternoon. Testing the law is a citizen's right. A few examples of tests:http://www.brownvboard.info/decision.htm

David S. --Oops -- I said exactly the opposite of what I intended to say. I should have said 'the former' alternative would be the better one, like this:"If the applicants have to come back to get the licence, it has cost them some inconveniece. If the registrar has to sign the paper, it will cost her her job. Less harm would be done by the former (having the couple be inconvenienced) , so it should be the choice."The reason it should be the choice is because, as a number of bloggers have pointed out, it is to the advantage of the whole community that we try to honor the feelings and needs of others as best we can. This means that sometimes you'll be accommodated, sometimes I will, but hopefully it will even out.

As a one-off arrangement, this is reasonably good. Not ideal, of course, but workable. But as a model, it has some serious problems. What happens in a jurisdiction that lacks either the activity to justify a second clerk or the funds to pay one? What happens if the deputy doesn't want to do it either?

The reason it should be the choice is because, as a number of bloggers have pointed out, it is to the advantage of the whole community that we try to honor the feelings and needs of others as best we can. This means that sometimes youll be accommodated, sometimes I will, but hopefully it will even out.There has to be a line somewhere as to when people take responsibility for their own demands of conscience as opposed to asking society (government, employers, friends, etc.) to accommodate them. If I am opposed to serving alcohol, I should not expect to get a job as a bartender and serve only customers who want ginger ale. If I am a Muslim who believes dogs are unclean, I should not seek employment at a kennel. If I am a town clerk whose job it is to sign marriage licenses for same-sex marriages, and same-sex marriage is the law in my state, I should either sign the licenses or get another job.

For me to participate in the same-sex marriage application process I dont feel is right, she said. God doesnt want me to do this, so I cant do what God doesnt want me to do, just like I cant steal, or any of the other things that God doesnt want me to do.

If they asked her to steal, would she say, "I can't. It's against the law of God. I'll have my assistant do it." If she believes gay marriage is immoral, she shouldn't fob off the dirty work on an assistant. She should get out. I have people who work for me, and if there is something I feel I can't do in good conscience, it doesn't get done. I don't say, "Gee, I feel this is wrong. I'll delegate it."

Bob N. --How long has the woman held the job? Was signing gay marriage licences part of the job description when she was hired? If not, I think she can make a case that the State should have told her before so she wouldn't invest so much of her working life in that job.

OOps -- I should have addressedd that to David N. Sorry.The complexity of real world moral situations is one of the reasons why Aquinas said that the further away you get from the basic principles of natural law, the less certain your conclusions about what to do are. And I don't doubt that this is true of positive law as well.

Agree, David N. -------- To Margaret: You said: "Perhaps the women petitioners recently arrived from Miami were pointed to that particular town clerk. Will be interesting to see how the courts (up to the Supreme Court?) rule on this."The women own a farm nearby. You said: "The VFW that wont rent its facilities for a same-sex wedding reception?"I think I've read that certain businesses, florists, owners of halls and bed-and-breakfasts, etc. are refusing to serve gay/Lesbian couples. (Not in Ledyard. Forget where, Long Island, maybe.)Ledyard has an opera house and a lakeside inn -- wine-tasting weekends go for "as much as $813 per couple." I wonder how they feel about this clerk, and what impact the publicity will have on their business and on Wells College. http://www.wells.edu/

David, a town clerk has other things to do with their time besides signing marriage licenses. It's just a matter of redistributing tasks. Before, everyone did everything. Now, some sensitive task is reserved to one person, so as to avoid barring all town clerk jobs from the people who won't sign a same-sex marriage license.If you are opposed to serving alcohol, you might still expect a job at a hotel. It used to be that every member of the staff would deliver alcohol to every customer who requested it. Now they have restructured the way they work so that only the bartender delivers alcohol. That's a common sense compromise solution.To make it completely clean, the town hall could rename its positions and detail the tasks associated with each. Tasks of town clerk A would include signing marriage licenses, tasks of town clerk B would not include it. Then a person who objects to same-sex marriage would know to apply to position B only, not position A. Really, I wish lawyers occupied their time with better pursuits than this.What if in some large restaurant someone claims to be allergic to some specific food if they touch it, although you suspect (or maybe you are convinced) that it's only in their head? Will you force them to touch it, threatening to fire them if they don't, or will you simply give them tasks that do not include touching that food? I say: if there are enough tasks to occupy them full time, and if it can be done without too much inconvenience, it is much better to humor them. Let's be real!

A commenter on this blog http://www.gayrightswatch.com/2005/08/gay-friendly-colleges-ranked-reed.... says Wells is "pretty gay".

"Ms. Belforti is at the heart of an emerging test case, as national advocacy groups look to Ledyard . . ." She is "represented by a Christian legal advocacy group based in Arizona, . . ."Who's testing the law, the women who run the working farm near Ledyard or the woman "who worships at several area churches"?

Ann--I agree with you that this "nice clear little case" is related to the Catholic hospitals/abortion issue. There is a new twist on that issue, i.e., the growing trend for hospital mergers, including the merger of non-religious hospitals with Catholic hospitals:http://www.courant.com/health/connecticut/hc-hospitals-merge-0929-201109... the reported case, the Catholic hospital will reportedly "continue to provide medical care consistent with the ethical and religious directives for Catholic health care services." That may be true, but I can foresee some knotty legal issues that can (and probably will arise).But back to the clerk's office ... What I think all concerned should do is go for a half-day to one of the many fine vineyards in NY's Finger Lakes area and get to know each other during a wine tasting or two (or more). I feel confident they will realize they have much more in common than they realize.

The complexity of real world moral situations is one of the reasons why Aquinas said that the further away you get from the basic principles of natural law, the less certain your conclusions about what to do are. And I dont doubt that this is true of positive law as well.Ann,I'm not quite sure what you are saying, but what I am saying is that if you believe something to be immoral, it doesn't get you off the hook to assign it to a subordinate. It's really very simple. It would be different if someone else headed the office, and the town clerk asked that person (her boss) to please assign someone else to the task. The town clerk would have no responsibility. But a supervisor is directly responsible for the work he or she assigns a subordinate to do. It just isn't a good enough moral solution to say, "I think that's immoral. I'll arrange for my assistant to do it." She's still responsible, and if the best she can do is to fob off something she believes is immoral on an assistant, she ought to quit. She's the boss. Ultimately, she is the one responsible for issuing the licenses, even if she is not doing it with her own hands. The article says,

Ms. Belforti, a Republican, first won election as town clerk a decade ago, and thought she had a creative solution this summer to a vexing problem by agreeing to delegate the signing of marriage licenses.

If she believes it is immoral to sign marriage licenses for same-sex marriages, she has no right to delegate the task to someone else, even if that person has no objection. She has deemed it immoral, and it doesn't become moral for another person to do it just because the other person has no objection to it. She is lacking in integrity and does not have the courage of her convictions. She ought to take responsibility or resign.

In New York City marriage bureaus were opened on a Sunday which was the first day gay marriages became legal. People worked overtime, judges were available in all the boroughs, the mayor presided at Gracey Mansion for the wedding of two of his deputies, etc. Any number of special arrangements were made for the festive occasion and any concerns about the city's perennial budget crisis were downplayed.Of course, those wanting to get married in the next few days undoubtedly had a longer than usual wait because resources had been shifted. If anyone complained about special treatment it wasn't recorded.Jonathan Rauch (a gay marriage advocate) made some prescient observations about the need for reasonable accommodations in the wake of gay victories. He argued that there's no need to sue some hapless bakery when you can't procure rainbow-colored cupcakes for your wedding -- not that there's anything wrong with suing, of course, and perhaps that will be the next step for our Ledyard pioneers. And then a local adoption agency. The possibilities are endless.http://www.jonathanrauch.com/jrauch_articles/the-emerging-gay-majority/

Let me allow my Mother to rephrase my question to Professor Penalver: Since it is true that most of our Civil Rights are grounded in our fundamental, unalienable Right to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is true that our unalienable Rights have been endowed to us from God, then on what grounds, secular or theological, can any State or person coerce any person(s) into condoning the engaging in or affirmation of any sexual relationship that does not respect our inherent dignity as human persons?

Since it is true that most of our Civil Rights are grounded in our fundamental, unalienable Right to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is true that our unalienable Rights have been endowed to us from God, then on what grounds, secular or theological, can any State or person coerce any person(s) into condoning the engaging in or affirmation of any sexual relationship that does not respect our inherent dignity as human persons?Hello there, Nancy Danielson!

"Would you feel the same way about, say, a police officer in a department that prohibits facial hair who does not want to shave his beard because he is a Sikh?"Actually I would. Every job we take comes with a set of qualifications and perimeters. When we interview for that job, all the qualifications and requirements are made clear. If there is a dress code for instance in the case of police, we have have decide if we are willing to wear a police uniform. The military has very specific requirements about hair which they enforce. The point is, if your religion is the most important thing to you, you would not take ANY job that conflicts with that. To expect the job to conform to your religion is ridiculous. That way, anything I didn't want to do, I could just tell my employer that my religious beliefs didn't allow me to do that. The difference there is that the religious objection does not involve anyone elses rights, but is your position that there is no room for religious exemptions in public employment?Indeed it DOES involve other people's rights. When you refuse to do your job for the general public you are refusing to acknowledge other people's rights to marry in this case. What if I thought that people of different religions shouldn't marry? If the woman worked for a specific religion that would be different. She works for the taxpayers of the country, some of those tax payers want and have the legal right to be married. What if a fireman says I have no intention of going to a same sex couples house that's on fire because my religion is against same sex marriage? When you accept a job, you have to do the job you were hired to do.

Gerelyn,You inform us that a commenter on some other blog says Wells is "pretty gay"; a commenter on this blog, you, says she "sounds like a jerk." Enough. The subject of this thread is not Wells's appearance or overall character, about which you know as little as the rest of us here -- which is to say, almost nothing.

When you accept a job, you have to do the job you were hired to do.

That's fine, so long as there's always a good job that fits your needs and abilities. In fact, we aren't all able to do just any job that's available and there are only a limited number available of jobs of any kind.It's also the position of the government toward Catholic hospitals: If you take our money, you need to accept the conditions we put on it.Things are seldom what they seem.

David, a town clerk has other things to do with their time besides signing marriage licenses.Claire,I should make it clear that my comments don't address the legal question. However, as a moral issue, I don't see how a superior can justify handing off a task he or she considers immoral to a subordinate. If it's immoral for the superior, it's immoral for the subordinate. The fact that the subordinate may not consider it immoral does not relieve the superior of any responsibility. Think of it with abortion. If I am the head of surgery at a hospital, and I am called upon to perform an abortion, I can't just assign that to a subordinate who doesn't believe abortion is wrong. We here so much talk of moral relativism, a lot of it meaning, "You disagree with me, so you're a moral relativist." So usually it's nonsense. But in this case, if the superior says, "It's immoral for me, but my subordinate doesn't think it's immoral, so for him it isn't," that is indeed moral relativism. Morally, the town clerk doesn't have a leg to stand on. That doesn't solve the legal issues, however, or at least not for this as a general issue.

Thats fine, so long as theres always a good job that fits your needs and abilities. In fact, we arent all able to do just any job thats available and there are only a limited number available of jobs of any kind.David Smith,Which is a good reason for saying if a person is unwilling to perform certain duties that he or she is perfectly capable of doing, the job should go to someone else. The important phrase in civil rights law, I believe, is reasonable accommodation. My understanding is that the employer is to take reasonable steps to deal with conscience claims of an employee. Even though town clerk is a government job, I don't think people applying for marriage licenses should be counted as the employer. So I disagree with Ann that they should bear any of the burden of accommodating the town clerk.

When you accept a job, you have to do the job you were hired to do.And when the details of the job description changes, everyone has to show a little bit of flexibility to adjust, or else we cannot live in a diverse society. Who has never negotiated with their fellow workers to organize work in a way that makes sense and that is not intolerable to anyone? I've always thought the Catholic church was silly to worry about potentially being forced to preside over same-sex marriages or being forced to have same-sex marriages happen inside Catholic churches, but this kind of stories makes me see that there is some reason for them to be worried. Fanatics exist in every stripe, including same-sex marriage proponents!

(David N - you might be right about Nancy)I just want to note that the town clerk didn't precisely *apply* for the job, nor was she precisely *hired* by the town. She was *elected* to the position by the people of the town. I don't know whether or not that's a distinction with a difference, but istm that the town will resolve the issue on its own during the next election, and I believe the story indicates that she already has an opponent.I still don't see that it is unreasonable for any gay or straight couple to have to make an appointment for a couple of days hence to apply for a marriage license.It occurs to me that this situation, which features no discrimination against gay couples and a good-faith attempt to make a non-litigious and reasonable accommodation while respecting conscience rights, has the potential to fire up the Religious Right. It seems clear that the woman is being sued for holding a mainstream religious belief. In essence, it seeks to make it illegal to believe an important tenet of Christianity. Winning the case in court could by Pyrrhic for the gay rights movement.

David N.--Maybe I'm confused, but moral relativism in my view is when one moral viewpoint is construed to be the same as any other moral viewpoint, and we therefore can't impose our moral viewpoint on anyone else. Basically, anything goes, and there is no hierarchy of moral values.How does that apply here? The clerk has a particular moral and religious viewpoint she is unwilling to compromise. The same sex couple appears to have a strong moral viewpoint (we don't know anything about their religious viewpoint(s)) in opposition to the clerk's that they are unwilling to compromise. How is that moral relativism? I also don't see how handing off an unwanted task to a subordinate is moral relativism. It may be unprofessional, but where is the moral dimension?

Matthew, I hope no one ELSE thought I was bashing gay-friendly colleges. Just the opposite. The blog I referred to was a discussion of the Princeton Review's list of the Top Twenty Gay-Friendly Colleges My sympathies are with oppressed minorities, including gays and Lesbians like those in the article who are being told come back another day for a marriage license. High school students who are considering which colleges to apply to should take many things into consideration. Those who are gay/Lesbian and those who respect those who are gay/Lesbian read the lists of gay-friendly and gay-unfriendly colleges with interest. Their parents, who will pay the bills, should consider where their gay/Lesbian child will be made welcome. And where will they, the parents, feel comfortable stying in local inns, taking their child to dinner, etc., on visits. Does Ledyard pass the test?

David, I have not thought about the moral issue. Indeed, there seem to be more than one inconsistency in that clerk's stance. As far as reasonable accommodation affecting the customers - I guess it would have been better to plan ahead of time and put an amendment in the same-sex marriage law allowing for a re-structuring of responsibilities so that the burden of signing marriage licenses is restricted to the smallest number of employees possible. If this lawsuit goes through, it will show that opponents of same-sex marriage are quite right to scrutinize the letter of the law and search for unexpected consequences that might enable the other side to take revenge and to cram same-sex marriage down their throat.

This is not the mere enforcement of neutral laws - of zoning ordinance or public safety - rather it is the enforcement of a particular ideology by the state on its citizens. It is the legislation of a particular view of human relationships and morality that is contrary to many - perhaps even the majority.Once the guidelines are stacked against traditional religious peoples, then the state can rely on private action and legal coercion for enforcement. Anyone who disagrees with homosexual marriage in the public square will be sued and boycotted and harassed. Tarred-and-feathered and ridden out of town on a pole, so to speak.I would say that it is similar to the enforcement of the new healthcare policy requiring universal contraception and sterilization, even for religious hospitals who serve the public. http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/09/4015Does tolerance and the "new morality" or new social standards handed down by the state require religious persons, businesses and institutions to leave the commonweal? Does it require the shutting down of catholic hospitals? The resignation of all religious state workers? The shuttering of all charities?According to the new regime of liberal tolerance, this appears to be the case...

I also dont see how handing off an unwanted task to a subordinate is moral relativism.William,It is basically saying, "It's wrong for me to do it, because I think it is immoral. But it is not wrong for my subordinate to do it, because he doesn't object." As I said, think of the case of abortion. If I myself feel it is immoral to perform an abortion, I can't get myself off the hook by ordering a subordinate to perform it for me." Moral relativism, as I understand it, is saying, "It's wrong for you, because you think it's wrong. But it's not wrong for me, because I don't think it's wrong." Assigning a task you consider immoral to a subordinate so you don't have to do it yourself is indefensible. If it's wrong for you, it's wrong for the subordinate. I don't see how there is any getting around that.

Here is the latest example of the state forcing religious actors out of the public square: Illinois Catholic Charities' foster care services will be shut because of a same sex ruling.http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/illinois-catholic-charities-foste... is not about tolerance - there are plenty of agencies beyond Catholic Services that people can go too (just like these traveling women could have waited for an appointment from another clerk)This is not about "discrimination," or even inconvenience, it is about forcing those who disagree with you out of public life. It is about power.

"Im not quite sure what you are saying, but what I am saying is that if you believe something to be immoral, it doesnt get you off the hook to assign it to a subordinate."David N. --The registrar doesn't have to tell a subordinate to do it. She can tell her superior she refuses to do it, and then the superior can assign it to a subordinate.Beyond that, I'm not even sure that it makes sense to say that any supervisor is "responsible" for all the actions of their employees. That's impossible, given that she might have 10 people all working on something at the same time. What the supervisor is responsible for is to oversee the workings of her underlings. It is in that sense that "the buck stops here". If it didn't, then it would also be true that the *supervisors* supervisor is the one at whom the buck stops. It gets to be ridiculous when you oversimplify like that.

Ann said: "The complexity of real world moral situations is one of the reasons why Aquinas said that the further away you get from the basic principles of natural law, the less certain your conclusions about what to do are. And I dont doubt that this is true of positive law as well.David replied: "Ann, Im not quite sure what you are saying,"To David: All I'm saying is that sometimes we cannot be sure of what the correct moral obligation is in a given circumstance. If Aquinas, with all his wisdom and holiness, could admit that I think it behooves the rest of us to at least consider the possibility that we don't know as much as we think we do sometimes.If everyone could admit that, I'm sure that a large part of the problem of uncivility in this country would dissolve.

"MickeyC, in your view, do government employers ever have conscience rights that must be accommodated?'As long as it doesn't interfere with the job they were hired to do.

"Thats fine, so long as theres always a good job that fits your needs and abilities. In fact, we arent all able to do just any job thats available and there are only a limited number available of jobs of any kind."Right! That's why we all have to find a job that coincides with our abilities. I'd love to be an actor except I can't act. There has always been a problem with unskilled labor in this country but the fact is, if you don't have the skill necessary, no one is going to hire you.

Anne: "sometimes we cannot be sure of what the correct moral obligation is in a given circumstance."Are you saying that the humility of Aquinas could somehow be used to justify same-sex marriage or the suppression of religious conscious in the public square? In terms of theology and natural law, I doubt that St. Thomas would have any trouble picking apart the modern arguments backing this radical sexual and social arraignment.How does that that saying go..."one should have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out"

"And when the details of the job description changes, everyone has to show a little bit of flexibility to adjust, or else we cannot live in a diverse society. Who has never negotiated with their fellow workers to organize work in a way that makes sense and that is not intolerable to anyone?"That's fine, as long as it is the parameters of the job. If I worked in a restaurant, but I didn't want to wait on black people, would it be OK for me to tell other employees to wait on them because I didn't want to?"Ive always thought the Catholic church was silly to worry about potentially being forced to preside over same-sex marriages or being forced to have same-sex marriages happen inside Catholic churches, but this kind of stories makes me see that there is some reason for them to be worried. Fanatics exist in every stripe, including same-sex marriage proponents!"The Catholic church does not marry people of other faiths or atheists. When has anyone tried to force them? The Catholic church does not marry people who have been divorced. When has anyone tried to force them? Why would this circumstance be any different?

"Here is the latest example of the state forcing religious actors out of the public square: Illinois Catholic Charities foster care services will be shut because of a same sex ruling.http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/illinois-catholic-charities-foste..."Why would any judge want to refer a child to a potential agency that could have a problem with the child's orientation? It would be unfair to the child. The Catholic Church can do whatever it likes within its religion but why should all of us be subjected to something we don't agree with?

"Since it is true that most of our Civil Rights are grounded in our fundamental, unalienable Right to be treated with dignity and respect, and it is true that our unalienable Rights have been endowed to us from God, then on what grounds, secular or theological, can any State or person coerce any person(s) into condoning the engaging in or affirmation of any sexual relationship that does not respect our inherent dignity as human persons?"No one is asking this clerk to "condone" anything. They expect her to do her job. She's basically using this as a platform to force her personal beliefs. No one is telling her to give them up, just do her job.

Bender you crack me up. This is not a post about the substance of the arguments for or against same-sex marriage. __________________Eduardo -- It was not ME who brought up the issue of theological arguments. YOU did. Now you essentially say that what you yourself wrote is actually irrelevant to the real point you wanted to make, that those words of yours that I excerpted were really meant to be a drive-by hit job, not really intending to linger on that point. Well, sorry, but some very important things were hit with those shots you took. If you didn't want to discuss these things, you should not have taken those shots in the first place.But let me go back to my very first comment, which has gone untouched. It is not enough to merely be tolerant of "same-sex marriage," rather, it is demanded that people approve of and agree with and be a participant in it. This is absolutely no different than when King Henry demanded that Thomas More give an oath agreeing that his marriage to Catherine was always false and his marriage to Anne true.What we are dealing with here is the essence of conscience, as well as the gross violation of that freedom of conscience.

Brett --Though we disagree about a lot, I agree with you that some of the new laws are having the effect of depriving some people of their rights unfairly. One of the worst I've read of is one recently passed in California, I think. Some legislative body or other has made it illegal to disapprove of homosexuality when teaching children.. This does not concern action or inaction -- this is thought control. What this case seems to boil down to is that you ought to lose your for what you think if the majority of your fellow citizens disagree. This mentality is also what inspired the so called "hate laws". As much as I respect the good intentions behind such laws, I think they're a disaster for the most basic principles of democratic societies. We have the inalienable right to at least to *think* as we do, and in most circumstances to *speak* as we think. Yes, there have to be some restrictions on speech, but only when immediate and serious damage is an issue.We need a thread on this some time.

"No one is asking this clerk to condone anything. They expect her to do her job. Shes basically using this as a platform to force her personal beliefs. No one is telling her to give them up, just do her job."Mickey C. --So the Good Germans did right when they "just followed orders"???

"Anne: sometimes we cannot be sure of what the correct moral obligation is in a given circumstance.Breett replied: "Are you saying that the humility of Aquinas could somehow be used to justify same-sex marriage or the suppression of religious conscious in the public square?"Dear God, Brett, I neither SAID nor IMPLIED anything about ANY sort of sins. I was talking about *UNSURE MENTAL ACTS". How can you possibly convert a statement about the uncertainty of some mental acts into into a statement about the actual morality of some particular sort of act???So my answer is NO. That is NOT what I'm saying. It isn't even *ABOUT* what I'm saying.

opps - I should have read further up! Sorry, Anne.

This town clerk and about 20,000 others for the last 50 years have signed licenses for many couples being married for the ninth time by an Elvis impersonator who was waiting on the City Hall steps. No bishop or anybody else ever protested.Catholic sacramental marriages have declined 50%. Somebody should get the plank out of their ...

If I worked in a restaurant, but I didnt want to wait on black people, would it be OK for me to tell other employees to wait on them because I didnt want to?It's not that the town clerk doesn't want to sign same-sex marriage licenses but continues to sign hetero-sex marriage licenses. My understanding is that she doesn't sign any marriage license, period. The proper analogy would be: if I worked in a restaurant, but I didnt want to wait on black people, would it be OK for me to go work in the kitchen and have the other employees wait on all customers? To that question, I answer: why not. It sounds like a reasonable way to adjust how tasks are shared among the staff, so as to accommodate my prejudice. The employer could also have taken a hard line and threatened me with dismissal if I refused to wait on black people, but he found a way out of the situation. It would be ridiculous for a black customer to insist that I wait on him and to start a lawsuit when I don't.

The registrar doesnt have to tell a subordinate to do it. She can tell her superior she refuses to do it, and then the superior can assign it to a subordinate.Ann,The woman in question is an elected official. She doesn't have a superior. She's the boss. It is her duty, among other things, to handle marriage licenses. That is what she was elected to do. As I have already conceded, it would be different if she had a superior, refused to handle marriage licenses, and the superior assigned someone else. But as an elected town clerk, she has no superior to appeal to. Marriage licenses are her responsibility. If she delegates the work to a deputy, they are still her responsibility. Beyond that, Im not even sure that it makes sense to say that any supervisor is responsible for all the actions of their employees. . . . It gets to be ridiculous when you oversimplify like that.Few situations have ever been so clear as this one. This town clerk was elected to (among other things) handle issuing marriage licenses. If she believes it is immoral, and she assigns the job to a subordinate, she is responsible for assigning an immoral task to a subordinate, and she's still ultimately responsible for the marriage licenses anyway. She's the town clerk. Marriage licenses are part of her responsibility. She is assigning a subordinate to do her dirty work. She doesn't have a moral leg to stand on. Legally, she may have a case, but morally, she is just wrong.

Catherine, you say, "Im not sure that I agree with the premise that previous civil rights battles had the opponents of those rights in a fringe position relative to mainstream Christian practice and theology."You're right. On the issue of slavery alone, and longstanding Catholic teaching about that issue, here's John Francis Maxwell, "The Correction of the Common Catholic Teaching Concerning Slavery by Pope Leo XIII," in "Change in Official Catholic Teaching," ed. Charles Curran (NY: Paulist, 2003), p. 78:"Pope Alexander III with the Fathers of the Third General Council of the Lateran in 1179 authorized the penalty of enslavement for captured Christians who had assisted the Saracens; Pope Innocent III did the same with the Fathers of the Fourth General Council of the Lateran in 1215; and Pope Gregory repeated this enactment in a letter to the English in 1235. Pope Leo X in 1514 followed the example of three of his predecessors in authorizing the kings of Portugal to invade and conquer the newly discovered territories of the New World, to reduce the non-Christian inhabitants who lived there to perpetual slavery, and to expropriate their possessions. Finally Pope Paul III in 1535 sentenced King Henry VIII of England to the penalty of being exposed for capture and enslavement by the Catholic princes of Europe, and in 1548, gave full permission for all persons, clerical and lay, to own, buy, and sell slaves in the City of Rome, and abrogated the privilege of the conservatori of Rome to emancipate Christian slaves."While it must be comforting for those now opposing same-sex marriage to imagine that they have the weight of scripture and tradition behind them, and that they have nothing in common with racists and supporters of slavery who once also appealed to the weight of scripture and tradition with equal confidence, it's absolutely historically false to make this assumption.I often think that, if more Catholics in the U.S. had grown up in the evangelical-dominated areas of the American South, or had more familiarity with the history and thinking of that region of the nation--including the longstanding tradition of citing scripture and venerable Christian tradition to support slavery and then segregation--many Catholics would be somewhat more nuanced in their appeals to scripture and tradition as confident grounds of their current prejudices. For that matter, maybe if more Catholics had more than a passing familiarity with our own church's long, long defense of slavery, we'd be less inclined to imagine that prejudice resides only in those people in that benighted place somewhere outside our own community.

The proper analogy would be: if I worked in a restaurant, but I didnt want to wait on black people, would it be OK for me to go work in the kitchen and have the other employees wait on all customers? To that question, I answer: why not.Claire,It is a bad analogy for any number of reasons. One of them is that the town clerk isn't saying she doesn't want to sign licenses for same-sex couples. She's saying it is immoral. She's saying it shouldn't be done at all, but she has come up with a compromise to hang on to her job. The story says, "She believes that God has condemned homosexuality as a sin, so she does not want to sign same-sex marriage licenses." If it is wrong for her to sign same-sex marriage licenses, it is wrong for anybody to sign same-sex marriage licenses. If you honestly believe that God has condemned homosexuality, then God's laws apply to your subordinates, even they don't share your beliefs. Wikipedia tells us: "A Shabbat goy, Shabbos goy or Shabbes goy (Yiddish: , shabbos goy Modern Hebrew: goy shel shabat) is an individual who regularly assists a Jewish individual or organization by performing certain acts on the Biblical Sabbath which are forbidden to Jews within Jewish law." Now there is nothing morally objectionable here, because Jews do not believe non-Jews are bound by Jewish law. But if you want something immoral done, and you get somebody else to do it who has has no moral objection (or doesn't mind doing something immoral), you are responsible.

Hasn't this issue been raised, fought through, and practically resolved ages ago in the matter of Catholic judges and divorce?

Perhaps soon newspapers will tell us more about the clerk's reasoning.

As long as the town clerk has imposed a policy/practice applying to *all* couples, straight and gay alike, I see no legal problem per se.But will the town clerk be reelected next time around?Or will the state legislature pass a bill, signed by the governor, that prohibits town clerks from requiring an appointment to apply for a marriage license?If the latter occurs, I could see a possible legal basis for removal from office since the town clerk --- if continuing the old policy/practice --- would not be abiding by a law that is neutral on its face.

We don't know exactly how the registrar is thinking. Sounds like her argument is that she thinks it is immoral to be an accomplce of a crime, and I would agree with that so far.But I keep wondering -- it merely handing out a piece of paper and saying fill this out, then filling in another paper herself being an accomplice? Isn't that action really quite remote from what she considers the crime? It's not as if she has been asked to be a flower girl or to hand the rings out.

Mr. Farley, I came across the following NY TIMES report by (more or less) pure luck, and it may not be the final word on your question:John Paul Says Catholic Bar Must Refuse Divorce CasesBy MELINDA HENNEBERGERPublished: January 29, 2002SIGN IN TO E-MAILPRINTPope John Paul II said today that civil lawyers who are Roman Catholic must refuse to take divorce cases, and should instead try to help separated couples reconcile.''We cannot surrender to the divorce mentality,'' the pope said in a speech to the Roman Rota, the church tribunal that hears marriage annulment cases. ''When a couple encounters difficulties in their marriage, priests and other members of the faith must be united to help them positively resolve the crisis.''He said he knew it would be a practical impossibility for judges to refuse to hear divorce cases, but said lawyers ''must always decline to use their professional skills for ends that are contrary to justice, like divorce.''The pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, described the remarks as ''an application of the general moral principle of not allowing us to cooperate with something that is evil.''

Pope John Paul II said today that civil lawyers who are Roman Catholic must refuse to take divorce cases, and should instead try to help separated couples reconcile.But Catholics who want to seek an annulment are required to already have a civil divorce! So are the non-Catholic lawyers supposed to do the dirty work? (And make all the money?)Also, couples seeking to reconcile don't go to lawyers. They go to marriage counsellors. That's just crazy!

I find that gay couples, including in civil partnerships, are more and more accepted in Catholic circles; I don't see the sort of diehard opposition to gay couples that is referred to above in reference to mixed race couples. And were there not polls that showed a majority of US Catholics in favor of gay marriage? The paradigm is shifting radically and quickly, both in society at large and in mainline churches, which perhaps explains the shrillness of the fundamentalists.

Brett thinks he has Aquinas on his side in opposing gay marriage. However there are deep principles in Aquinas that very much feed into the case for gay marriage, even sacramental gay marriage. These include:1. the basic goodness of being, and of nature.2. a vision of natural law based on values. Human flourishing and a constructive culture of love and community, for example, would not be alien to Aquinas's notion of natural law. 3. an openness to the sciences and to empirical findings.4. a recognition that polygamy is not incompatible with natural law; acceptance of the validity of the polygamous marriages in the Bible.

Religious support for gay marriage is quite abundant in Britain: http://queeringthechurch.com/2011/09/29/bishop-vows-gay-marriage-will-pr...

Regarding why she doesn't just resign: if issuing marriage licenses is her only duty, perhaps it would make some sense to say, 'I won't be party to this immorality, even in a supervisory capacity. Therefore, I will walk away'. But suppose, as seems likely enough, that the clerk of that town has numerous other responsibilities besides issuing marriage licenses - keeping tax records, issuing building permits and so on. It may be that issuing marriage licenses is only a minor duty of the position. From the point of view of the overall morality of her job, she may have no moral qualms with 90% of what she is asked to do. In addition, on the other side of the moral ledger, she may view public service as positively a virtue. Perhaps, in that set of circumstances, the workaround she has devised is morally respectable: she gets to continue to engage in the virtue of public service, and has managed to separate herself by one more degree from the only morally repugnant aspect of her job. It is not morally perfect, but we live in an imperfect world, and nowhere is settling for somewhere in the middle more necessary than in politics.There is also the consideration that to flee the field is to concede the battleground entirely to the opponent. Perhaps she doesn't want to do that - she may see her public stance as a form of Christian witness.

William Lindsay, this appears to be the gist of your argument: 'Slave owners and supporters of slavery have quoted the Bible and Christian tradition to justify their sins. Therefore, anyone who cites the Bible and Christian tradition is in the same sinful moral tradition as a slave owner. The lesson is, never look to Scripture or Christian tradition for moral guidance.'

"The proper analogy would be: if I worked in a restaurant, but I didnt want to wait on black people, would it be OK for me to go work in the kitchen and have the other employees wait on all customers? To that question, I answer: why not. It sounds like a reasonable way to adjust how tasks are shared among the staff, so as to accommodate my prejudice. The employer could also have taken a hard line and threatened me with dismissal if I refused to wait on black people, but he found a way out of the situation. It would be ridiculous for a black customer to insist that I wait on him and to start a lawsuit when I dont."Aside from the fact your concept forces the owner to accommodate you in spite of his business, in this case we are talking about a private organization. Obviously a restaurant can hire whoever they like as long as they don't violate any laws. In the case of the clerk, she is an employee of the people of the county. What seems to be missing is the accountability to ALL the people who pay the salary.

"So the Good Germans did right when they just followed orders???"So Ann, you're comparing signing a same sex marriage license to signing the death warrants of thousands of people?

" Some legislative body or other has made it illegal to disapprove of homosexuality when teaching children..This does not concern action or inaction this is thought control. What this case seems to boil down to is that you ought to lose your for what you think if the majority of your fellow citizens disagree. "Ann, the same thing was said in the south after school integration. It was considered "thought control" to force people to accept black people as equal or teach that black people were equal. The newly enacted civil rights laws were claimed to take away the rights of states to decide their own laws and the rights of citizens based on whom they had to associate. Were individual rights violated? It depends on your perspective. If I own a restaurant and I don't want to serve black people, were my rights as a business owner violated?

"William Lindsay, this appears to be the gist of your argument: Slave owners and supporters of slavery have quoted the Bible and Christian tradition to justify their sins. Therefore, anyone who cites the Bible and Christian tradition is in the same sinful moral tradition as a slave owner. The lesson is, never look to Scripture or Christian tradition for moral guidance."Jim, the Bible (or any religious scripture) can be dangerous when used by people with a specific agenda. Most people don't seem to realize (or choose to ignore) the context in which the Bible was written; the people; the times; etc. Unfortunately fundamentalism has crept into most main stream religions at an alarming rate and concepts taken out of context are bandied about to justify pretty much anything one is against. Both Scripture and Christian Tradition have been corrupted many times over the years so it behooves a person to judiciously consider it before using it as moral guidance.

Perhaps, in that set of circumstances, the workaround she has devised is morally respectable . . .I have to say that I find these rationalizations sad. Nothing could be clearer to me than that it is immoral to claim a right of conscience to assign a task one believes to be morally repugnant to a subordinate to avoid doing it oneself. It is the town clerk's duty to handle marriage licenses. It is what she was elected to do. She is no less culpable for doing something she considers to be wrong by assigning the task to a subordinate. It is not a moral solution to have someone else do your dirty work for you. It is, in fact, worse than doing it yourself, because you have involved another person. I think she is not so much concerned with morality as some kind of cleanliness code or purity code. She thinks same-sex marriage is dirty and she wants to maintain her distance. If other people aren't disgusted by it, it's fine for them to sign the licenses.

"So Ann, youre comparing signing a same sex marriage license to signing the death warrants of thousands of people?"MickeyC --Indeed, I am. As the case is being presented here, the same moral principle is involved in both cases -- one must never obey an evil command. This is why this little case is so important. Either way the case is decided, the principle(s) the Supreme Court applies will affect major issues like the Catholic hospitals refusing to do abortions, for instance. If you want to argue that in some cases you don't have to follow that general principle, that would be another matter -- you would have revised the issue. But as the registrar herself seems to be saying, that particular, highly general principle is what is at issue.

I wrote: MickeyC, in your view, do government employers ever have conscience rights that must be accommodated?MickeyC responded: "As long as it doesnt interfere with the job they were hired to do."Hmm, istm that, by definition, workplace conscience objections *must* interfere with the job one is hired to do, or it wouldn't qualify as a conscience issue No?(Maybe you were quipping?)

"I think she is not so much concerned with morality as some kind of cleanliness code or purity code. She thinks same-sex marriage is dirty and she wants to maintain her distance. If other people arent disgusted by it, its fine for them to sign the licenses."David, you may be right, but istm you're reading more into her motivations than the evidence we've been given warrants.And at any rate, her motivations for making that arrangement, or her putative lack of moral courage in not resigning, don't have any bearing on the conscience-rights aspect of the case. The fact remains that she is being sued despite making a reasonable attempt to accommodate state law and her conscience.

The proper analogy would be: if I worked in a restaurant, but I didnt want to wait on black people, would it be OK for me to go work in the kitchen and have the other employees wait on all customers? To that question, I answer: why not. It sounds like a reasonable way to adjust how tasks are shared among the staff, so as to accommodate my prejudice."I suppose everyone here agrees that refusing to wait on an African American because the waiter doesn't like black people is repugnant. Can we try a less inflammatory analogy? How about this? Suppose that the she works in a restaurant that is located in a county that prohibits the sale of alcohol on Sundays. The waitress herself belongs to a church that considers alcohol consumption a serious sin, and she supports the blue law. Now, suppose that a new state law requires that any establishment that sells liquor the other six days of the week must sell it on Sundays as well. Serving alcohol on the Lord's day is an affront to the woman's moral principles, but she likes and needs her job. So she makes an arrangement with the bartender: he will bring the alcohol to the tables of any customers who order it on Sundays, and she will share a portion of her tips with him. Is this a weaselly accommodation? Should customers be offended that the bartender rather than the waitress serve them drinks? Should she quit her job over the moral principle involved? If the latter, what has she accomplished?

And at any rate, her motivations for making that arrangement, or her putative lack of moral courage in not resigning, dont have any bearing on the conscience-rights aspect of the case.Jim,I would say that it does. Making a conscience claim, it seems to me, requires more than saying, "I don't want to do that, because it offends my conscience." The town clerk should have to explain why and how it offends her conscience, and how and why assigning the work to a subordinate solves the problem. Remember that in the case of abortions, pro-life doctors insist on the right not only not to perform the abortion, but not to refer a woman seeking an abortion to someone who will. Would you really like this case to set a precedent that the legal solution in the case of objections of conscience is to hand the objectionable task to a subordinate? What then becomes of the principle of not giving abortion referrals? It is certainly less material cooperation to give someone the name of a person who performs abortions than it is to assign the abortion to a subordinate. How much a part this will play legally, I don't know. But I don't think this town clerk has a valid conscience claim if she is willing to assign the task to a subordinate.

Should customers be offended that the bartender rather than the waitress serve them drinks?Jim,It seems to me a reasonable accommodation unless the customers are inconvenienced, the way people applying for marriage licenses are inconvenienced if they have to make an appointment with a deputy rather than drop in the town clerk's office at their convenience. The town clerk's solution is a little bit like cities in the south closing their swimming pools rather than integrating them. It's not exactly discrimination, since neither white nor black people could go swimming. It's making everyone suffer for your "principles."

While I have not read all of these posts, since I live in this Upstate NY general area, I know that discussions will be widespread and our Syracuse Post-Standard's article today from NY Times will have a slew of letters. (I recently had one published on "class warfare" so I would not be eligible again for 30 days.) Also, our local LeMoyne College (Jesuit) happens to be hosting speakers on related gay and lesbian rights issues in these weeks and I expect this will be part of the discussion. Finally, I am performing two gay marriages in the these next weeks with three of the four who are Catholic. An interesting time...Always wonder also about an acquaintance of mine who is divorced and remarried for a third time times who is a wonderful, Bible believing, devout Christian who is firmly against gay marraige on these Biblical grounds but has no problem seeing her own choices in marriage in accordance with biblical texts...O tempora! O mores!

More than anything I think this demonstrates the lie that is the gay rights advocates demand for tolerance.To tolerate something is to allow it despite your objections. That's what the clerk did. She found a way to show tolerance. The couple, on the other hand, is astoundingly intolerant. What they lost, in any real sense, is some level of convenience. So instead of tolerating the clerk's beliefs that they object to at the price of a minor inconvenience and personal offense, they sue (a terribly inconvenient thing to do). What they want is not tolerance, but obeisance to their views. If someone objects, even in tolerating them, they must be bludgeoned by rhetoric as hate-filled bigots or have the power of the courts or state brought to bear.And the comparison to issuing marriage licenses to cohabitating couples is spurious. She doesn't object to the fact that she is issuing to people who are sinning, she is uncomfortable with putting her name on a document that validates a relationship that she objects to. And if this is a narrow Biblical interpretation, she's entitled to it this being America and all.

"Making a conscience claim, it seems to me, requires more than saying, I dont want to do that, because it offends my conscience. The town clerk should have to explain why and how it offends her conscience, and how and why assigning the work to a subordinate solves the problem."How she solves the problem seems to me to be irrelevant to the conscience claim. Solving the problem, whatever the solution, is subsequent to the situation that pricked her conscience and caused her to say, "I can't directly cooperate in this". There are any number of possible non-discriminatory solutions that would seem to reasonably accommodate the citizens who request her services, but none of them have any bearing on the confluence of law and conscience that created the crisis. If she had managed to transfer responsibility for issuing marriage licenses to another department (which also required an appointment), thus achieving yet another degree of separation from what she views as cooperation with evil, would you then have more respect for her moral integrity?Are conscience clauses only for the heroic? Or should they apply to everyone?

To tolerate something is to allow it despite your objections. Thats what the clerk did. She found a way to show tolerance. Sean,I think there would be absolutely no question in anyone's mind that if the town clerk had told a black (Catholic, Jewish, etc.) couple she objected to signing marriage licenses for people of their kind, but they could make an appointment with a deputy who was willing, there would be an airtight case of discrimination. What makes it different for a same-sex couple?

"It seems to me a reasonable accommodation unless the customers are inconvenienced, the way people applying for marriage licenses are inconvenienced if they have to make an appointment with a deputy rather than drop in the town clerks office at their convenience."When I applied for a marriage license, I had to wait in line for quite a long time. It was inconvenient. I had to take time off from work to do it. It would actually have been more convenient to make an appointment, if that were possible, assuming having an appointment would have enabled me to waltz right up to the desk. I wasn't singled out for ill treatment; everyone else had to wait in line that day, too. Do I have the right to sue the county clerk because I had to wait in line? Or is there a legal principle that says, 'If you can do it while waiting in line, that kind of inconvenience is legal, but if you have to make an appointment for a couple of days hence, that kind of inconvenience is illegal'?

If she had managed to transfer responsibility for issuing marriage licenses to another department (which also required an appointment), thus achieving yet another degree of separation from what she views as cooperation with evil, would you then have more respect for her moral integrity?Jim,The town clerk is quoted in the article:

For me to participate in the same-sex marriage application process I dont feel is right, she said. God doesnt want me to do this, so I cant do what God doesnt want me to do, just like I cant steal, or any of the other things that God doesnt want me to do."Just like I can't steal." If her job required her to steal, would you respect her decision to delegate the stealing to a subordinate? You can't relieve yourself of responsibility of an assigned task by delegating it to a subordinate. How difficult is that to understand? It would be another matter entirely if she had a superior, refused to perform the task, and the superior reassigned it. I am a manager. I supervise people. If I tell them to do something immoral, it is my fault if something immoral gets done. It couldn't be simpler.

Oops. The second two paragraphs in the blockquote are my own.

Do I have the right to sue the county clerk because I had to wait in line? Jim,As I read the story, the lesbian couple showed up for a license, which the town clerk could have granted them, but she turned them away and told them to make an appointment, because she wouldn't sign a license for a same-sex couple. How is turning someone away not discrimination? What if they had been black and had been turned away?

David N: I believe I understand what you're saying here and I think you write very clearly. I have followed this thread from the beginning and I must say I am rather surprised that many of those who are responding to your comments are mostly resistant to accepting (therefore understanding,) what you've been consistently and pain-stakingly writing here. You make perfect sense and your point about moral relativism is bug-on right in this matter of the town clerk. Even Peter Kreeft would surely agree with you.The town clerk, by the way, is a public servant - which is far more than simply an employee. She is by definition, there to serve her public, as the law and regulations dictate. Refusing to assist those whom she is charged to serve and requiring them to set up appointments instead is a burden to her public; parsing through this and justifying appointments seems to me totally ridiculous and an exercise of drawn-out, painful-to-witness, rationalizations engaged in by a large segment of commentators. Amazing...

"To tolerate something is to allow it despite your objections. Thats what the clerk did."No she didn't. She was very clear that wouldn't tolerate it and refused to do her job. Doing one's job doesn't mean they support the people or the cause. A gun dealer can sell guns but doesn't necessarily support everything people will do with them.

As I read the story, the lesbian couple showed up for a license, which the town clerk could have granted them, but she turned them away and told them to make an appointment, because she wouldnt sign a license for a same-sex couple. How is turning someone away not discrimination? David: Because everyone gets turned away. Or, to put it less dramatically, every couple seeking a license is required to make an appointment, not just the same-sex couples. At least, that's the situation the article describes. That's what this whole post is about: it's not as simple as "You're gay, so you have to come back some other time."

"Hmm, istm that, by definition, workplace conscience objections *must* interfere with the job one is hired to do, or it wouldnt qualify as a conscience issue No?"I don't see it that way at all. I can perform a job I was hired to do but that doesn't mean I support everything that goes with it. Many people work for corporations, do their jobs but don't agree with a lot of things the corporations do based on conscience. In this case the clerk is a hypocrite because she "claims" her religion is opposed to same sex marriage but apparently it doesn't bother her enough to give up her job with office that handles those licenses. If I REALLY had a moral objection to something, I certainly wouldn't be working there. This is not about "moral" objection, it's about personal prejudice.

"Indeed, I am. As the case is being presented here, the same moral principle is involved in both cases one must never obey an evil command"Since getting married is not "evil" your analogy is ludicrous. The same "moral prinicple" is NOT involved here.

Her Arizona lawyers (who's paying them?) will lose. Uncomfortable to read the excuses for the unconstitutional behavior.

Thats what this whole post is about: its not as simple as Youre gay, so you have to come back some other time.Mollie,It's as simple as this: "You're gay, so everybody has to come back another time." As I said earlier, it's similar to cities in the old South closing swimming pools rather than integrating. You can always find a way to treat everyone equally if you're willing to treat the people you wouldn't otherwise discriminate against as shabbily as the people you do want to discriminate against. And, of course, straight couples who are inconvenienced will say, "If it weren't for gay marriage, we wouldn't have this inconvenience."

There has been a lot of talk about the clerk's reasoning but nothing about the other side.My guess: that lesbian couple is so used to having to fight discrimination that it has become second nature to them. They'll take the flimsiest incident and make a big deal out of it. They don't know to pick their battles. I think that is not good for them, and not good for the rights of LGBT people.

Faubus wanted to close the public schools in Little Rock rather than allow integration. http://www.centralhigh57.org/1957-58.htm

Morally what is it to respect another's belief?Legally what is a conscience claim and what are its limits?

"As I said earlier, its similar to cities in the old South closing swimming pools rather than integrating."If the town clerk had said, "Because I object to gay marriage, *nobody* in this town can get a marriage license", then your analogy would be perfect. But that's not what she's saying or doing. I suppose she should have been politically savvy enough to have made the following public announcement: "The duties of my position as town clerk keep me and my staff so busy that I regret to announce that, effective immediately, couples seeking marriage licenses will be served by appointment only. Appointments may be made for the days of X, Y and Z between the hours of V am and W pm. To make an appointment, please contact the town clerk's office," etc. Presumably, this would have avoided the kerfuffle.

From the NY Times story: "Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, who made same-sex marriage a priority of his first year in office, has expressed little sympathy for clerks who object to the law. 'When you enforce the laws of the state, you dont get to pick and choose,' he said this summer."He should call President Obama on the telephone immediately and deliver the same message.

Eduardo asks, "What is the genuine harm of allowing the town clerk to delegate this task, as long as the task gets done, albeit with some delay, and as long as it gets done equally for same-sex and straight couples?"Thus far, 100+ comments into the conversation, the answer is an unequivocal, "none whatsover".Nobody has been harmed.Nobody has been discriminated against.This case seems to have no merit.

As noted by others, judges and attorneys who are Catholics contribute to the legal dissolution of marriages by expediting requests for divorce. In addition, judges who are Catholics are expected to officiate at civil marriages which the Church would condemn as illicit and/or invalid. Should a Catholic judge step aside when requested to officiate at the civil marriage of two divorced, baptized Catholics who were previously married before a Catholic priest? Or since civil marriages arent real marriages, can the Catholic judge set aside his/her religious qualms and simply act as a State functionary? In those states now recognizing same sex marriages, must Catholic judges claim a right of conscience and refuse to officiate at such weddings even though previously they have not claimed a right of conscience when they were asked to officiate at numerous illicit and/invalid weddings? In the future, in those states which now recognize gay marriage, one can image a same-sex couple approaching the civil courts to seek a divorce. Can a Catholic attorney represent one of the parties in those divorce proceedings? Can a Catholic judge preside in the formal hearing of the divorce? Or should Catholics only be permitted to facilitate the divorce of heterosexual couples?St. Augustine discussed whether a Christian could serve as an executioner and implement civil law. He concluded that even though government uses human and imperfect justice to preserve public order, Christians could serve as functionaries who assist the State to enforce the law. In a contemporary application, how does the State executioner differ from a pilot of a drone aircraft who is cognizant of potential civilian collateral damage and yet guides this weapon to assassinate an Islamic fundamentalist in a distant Pakistani village? So what are we to conclude: Christians who serve as executioners or drone assassins are morally exonerated; while Christian functionaries who are expected to assist the State in conferring the status of civil marriage on same sex couples must exercise the right of conscience and seek recusal?

"In the future, in those states which now recognize gay marriage, one can image a same-sex couple approaching the civil courts to seek a divorce. Can a Catholic attorney represent one of the parties in those divorce proceedings? "If we assume that the law should be aligned with the moral law, then the answer to your question would seem to be "yes". Representing one of the parties in an effort to dissolve a marriage recognized by the state is to cooperate in bringing the couple's legal status (no longer married) back into alignment with their moral status (never married).Your question about Catholic judges officiating at civil weddings seems more germane. Could a conscientious judge decline to officiate a same-sex marriage, or recuse herself from it? Here is what Wikipedia says: 'In the United States, the term "recusal" is used most often with respect to court proceedings. Two sections of Title 28 of the United States Code (the Judicial Code) provide standards for judicial disqualification or recusal. Section 455, captioned "Disqualification of justice, judge, or magistrate judge," provides that a federal judge "shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned." The same section also provides that a judge is disqualified "where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party." It seems, on this reading, that a federal judge would be within her rights to recuse herself from a civil ceremony to which she has moral objections. Presumably, the wedding would rotate to another member of the bench - which, if the couple were the Ledyard plaintiffs, would presumably result in another meritless lawsuit.

Jim,Imagine everything the same except that a town clerk will not, for religious reasons, sign marriage licenses for Jewish couples. To prevent herself from signing such licenses, she has all marriage licenses signed by a deputy, and as a result, people of all religions must make appointments when formerly they were served whenever they walked in.Would you say nobody has been harmed, and nobody has been discriminated against? And what about people who said, "If it weren't for those damned Jews, we wouldn't have to make an appointment"?

"Imagine everything the same except that a town clerk will not, for religious reasons, sign marriage licenses for Jewish couples. To prevent herself from signing such licenses, she has all marriage licenses signed by a deputy, and as a result, people of all religions must make appointments when formerly they were served whenever they walked in. Would you say nobody has been harmed, and nobody has been discriminated against?"Of course it's very difficult to get past the inflammatory nature of the example, but just taking the questions at their objective meaning, I would have to say, that no, nobody has been harmed, and no, nobody has been discriminated against. Of course, there are other things that seem deeply wrong in that scenario, but whatever those things are, and the seem evident enough, they are not discrimination nor harm.In your opinion, could a person who believes that Jews shouldn't marry be permitted to hold the position of town clerk, given that a majority of voters in the jurisdiction have elected her, fair and square?

It seems to me it's *nearly* analogous to the priests, etc who have decided not to perform weddings until gay marriage is legal.It's different, though, coming from a government official.

I would like to second the claim of Marcia Mann that David Nickol's distinction between a moral objection and a legal accomodation has been almost entirely ignored; Ann O. not surprisingly does seem to have understood it. I also believe that the anology to an African American couple being the cause of such an accomodation is apt and not yet answered.I would like to know more from those who know about such matters if there is a difference between public officials seeking accomodations based on conscience and private employees seeking accomodations. Is there a difference in policy or in case law?Objection to a law is not a sufficient reason for a public official to refuse to do her/his job.

To prevent herself from signing such licenses, she has all marriage licenses signed by a deputy, and as a result, people of all religions must make appointments when formerly they were served whenever they walked in.David, you make it sound as though getting a marriage license is akin to buying a lottery ticket at the 7-11. I suppose if someone arrives for their third or fourth marriage license and recalls the process being quicker last time, they might be annoyed, but do most people seeking licenses expect instant counter service? How "shabbily" are they being treated when they're given an appointment instead? They do get the license, after all. Is there a standard way government offices issue marriage licenses that engaged couples have come to expect, so that being told to make an appointment would seem obviously discriminatory? For all we know, the by-appointment policy might actually be more efficient than the walk-in-and-take-a-number system, especially in such a small office with such limited hours. We don't know how it plays out, just as we don't know how anyone learned of the motivation for the policy change in the first place. You seem to assume the clerk announces her disdain for gay couples to anyone who shows up. Maybe she does, but we don't know. The article didn't say how the people suing found out what was going on behind the scenes. I think you're right that it would have been more logically consistent for the clerk to resign. And I'm not inclined to sympathy for her point of view. But one can agree that her moral reasoning is unsound, or that her opinion about gay marriage is simple bigotry, and still question whether there's any reason a government office can't adjust its scheduling policies across the board.

No, I don't think David is comparing marriage licenses to lottery tickets. The clerk is not doing her job, and as a result, everyone waits longer. Most posting on this thread think that because everyone waits longer it is fair, but the clerk is still not doing her job.Here is the relevance of David's analogy to Jews or African-Americans being the source of the controversy. The working assumption seems to be that at this point in history we now all agree that it is reprehensible to even hint that one is altering one's practices on the grounds that one objects to Jews or African-Americans getting married, but we think that people of good will may have sound reasons for objecting to same-sex couples getting married. Same-sex couples, in short, are asked to accomodate public officials thinking there is something wrong with them, and INSTITUTIONALIZING that opinion by a change in public practice. Why in the world should they be required to think this? Why in the world should government offices be places where such a message can be sent? The clerk is using her ability to alter government practice to send a message: same-sex marriages are immoral. But in New York, same-sex marriages are legal and no government official should be allowed to use government policy to broadcast a private moral position.

Jim P. --No matter what happens in this case, I don't think that no harm will have been done. Either the gay couple will have been embarrassed (that is a result in the registrar's refusal to serve them) or she will have to go against her religious conscience (which would be a sin and which might be against he law -- that has yet to be determined by the court) or she will have to lose her job.In fact, it seems to me that while the registrar's refusal is an embarrassment to the couple, there is als the question of whether we have an obligation to respect, and therefore sometimes make accomodations for, the consciences of people we do NOT agree with. This, I think, is the heart of the matter.In a democracy people have a *right* to honestly disagree. From this it follows, i think, that we therefore have a civil *duty* to respect their right to disagree. We do not have a duty to agree with them, but we do have a duty to respect the fact that they don't have to agree with us -- just as the couple thinks the registrar should respect *their* thinking, the registrar thinks they should respect *her* thinking. (But just what does "respect" imply in this context?)We also have a *moral* duty to respect a person's honesty -- even when we think their opinions are horrible. True, there is such a thing as objective evil, but good people sometimes do what is evil because they think it is good. And, moving to a theological level, we must never forget that we're all going to be judged eventually on the quality of our *intentions* -- on whether our intentions were sincerely directed to what we honestly thought was a good. Almost paradoxically, we will not be judged on whether or not what we actually did was objectively right.

Joe Pettit is exactly right when he says the following:

Same-sex couples, in short, are asked to accomodate public officials thinking there is something wrong with them, and INSTITUTIONALIZING that opinion by a change in public practice. Why in the world should they be required to think this?

Eduardo,I don't know how old you are but obviously you did not live in the south during era of the civil rights movement...and your lack of knowledge of southern religious history prior to, during and after the great civil war regarding the issue of slavery, Jim Crow, as you put it is way off. The southern religious establishment, CERTAINLY NOT A FRINGE GROUP/ELEMENT in terms of the entire white southern culture, was overwhelmingly justifying their support of slavery and eventually opposition to black civil/human rights by QUOTING THE OLD AND THE NEW TESTAMENT. Both southern religious and secular leaders, and from my experience some members of my own family who remained in the south during the 60s fervently believed that blacks were sub-human, inferior to whites and that slavery was Biblically SANCTIONED. You say you are in support of marriage for gays but if we had followed your position you would have had us work out a compromise with southern slave holders and allowed them to keep some slaves - maybe the house servants only - or during the 60s perhaps you would have had society grant only SOME of the requested rights of black people - in both situations out of deference to white peoples' sincere convictions of their biblically supported belief in slavery and opposition to black civil rights? If you truly believe secular society should allow gay people to marry then tell your religious friend to render unto Ceasar, etc., etc....NO ONE IS FORCING HER TO ALLOW GAYS TO MARRY IN HER CHURCH. She is functioning in a secular role as a representative of ALL the people in her town which through their legally elected representatives have decided that New York will allow gay to marry. If she cannot function in that position because of her religious view then she needs to resign. The will of the people has been expressed in a proper democratically appropriate method.

Jim Pauwels wrote: "William Lindsay, this appears to be the gist of your argument: Slave owners and supporters of slavery have quoted the Bible and Christian tradition to justify their sins. Therefore, anyone who cites the Bible and Christian tradition is in the same sinful moral tradition as a slave owner. The lesson is, never look to Scripture or Christian tradition for moral guidance."This is really a very tawdry reply to William Lindsay's points. Of course, as a theologian, Lindsay would never say we should not look to Scripture or tradition for moral guidance. He is in fact depending Scripture from its fundamentalist abusers, those who used it to support murderous racism in his native South and those who use it to cement their murderous homophobia today. The same fundamentalist hermeneutics is at work in both cases.Scripture provides much comfort and light to those who promote loving same-sex relationships, even including sacramental marriage, if you allow the Spirit and honest consultation of the signs of the times to guide your reading.

"The clerk is not doing her job"Certainly she is doing her job. Her job, running the office of the town clerk, is to ensure that the office of the town clerk is serving the citizens of the jurisdiction. Is there some legal or moral principle that insists that she personally must issue marriage licenses? I'm quite certain that, whoever issued my marriage license to me, it wasn't the city clerk. I'm pretty sure it's valid nonetheless.

"Same-sex couples, in short, are asked to accomodate public officials thinking there is something wrong with them, and INSTITUTIONALIZING that opinion by a change in public practice."Joe, I'm sorry, but you have this quite wrong. What this clerk has done (I'm going to use your all-caps convention here to help make the point) is the opposite of institutionalizing her opinion. She is seeking a way to accommodate her PERSONAL moral views, while simultaneously ensuring that the office for which she is responsible is precisely NOT INSTITUTIONALIZING anything that would be construed as discriminatory or failing to execute the duties that the office is supposed to executed. In short, she is trying to protect her PERSONAL conscience.

"No matter what happens in this case, I dont think that no harm will have been done. Either the gay couple will have been embarrassed (that is a result in the registrars refusal to serve them)" Ann, I disagree - there is no reason for the couple to be embarrassed, at least according to the circumstances with which we've been presented. They were asked to follow the same policy that every other couple who comes into the office is asked to follow. What is embarrassing about that?It's possible that the clerk may have said or done something that made them feel slighted (or worse). But that's not a problem with the policy of the office, it's the clerk's personal problem.

" there is als the question of whether we have an obligation to respect, and therefore sometimes make accomodations for, the consciences of people we do NOT agree with. This, I think, is the heart of the matter."In a democracy people have a *right* to honestly disagree. From this it follows, i think, that we therefore have a civil *duty* to respect their right to disagree. We do not have a duty to agree with them, but we do have a duty to respect the fact that they dont have to agree with us just as the couple thinks the registrar should respect *their* thinking, the registrar thinks they should respect *her* thinking. (But just what does respect imply in this context?)"Hi, Ann, I agree. In my opinion, "respect" encompasses reasonable accommodation of the other person. In my view, the clerk's solution is just such a reasonable accommodation.

On the 7-11 style comparison: does it not depend on how short a notice you need for the appointment, and whether appointments are available on a regular basis? For locals planning well in advance, it's a minor nuisance if, for example, the deputy's just left for vacation. But many people hold weddings where they do not live. (This of course is especially true of gay couples, because most places don't allow them to marry.) A law requiring time between getting a license and holding the wedding is both easy to find out about and reasonable to expect people to research in advance; an office charged with, among other things, issuing marriage licenses that, though open, only does them once in a while when a particular employee is on duty is not.

Fr. O'Leary, here is what William Lindsey wrote: "While it must be comforting for those now opposing same-sex marriage to imagine that they have the weight of scripture and tradition behind them, and that they have nothing in common with racists and supporters of slavery who once also appealed to the weight of scripture and tradition with equal confidence, its absolutely historically false to make this assumption."I will grant that my summary of his opinion is a caricature, but not by much.Btw, he also wrote this: ""I often think that, if more Catholics in the U.S. had grown up in the evangelical-dominated areas of the American South....many Catholics would be somewhat more nuanced in their appeals to scripture and tradition as confident grounds of their current prejudices."Thus, in his view, anyone who opposes same-sex marriage is prejudiced, i.e. a bigot. I note you pour soothing oil on those roiling waters by chiming in that such people are practicing "murderous homophobia". With the bar set this high for civil and charitable discourse, who can hope to measure up?

Pope John Paul II said today that civil lawyers who are Roman Catholic must refuse to take divorce cases_______________I've refused to take divorce cases, other than to defend in child custody matters. It is a matter of conscience.

With respect to this issue of a good conscience, and whether the state, either in its capacity as government or as in its capacity as employer, can force someone to do an act in violation of a good conscience, especially when there is a very reasonable alternative accomodation available, just where else should a government worker be forced to participate in what he or she sees as being fundamentally wrong?Should a prison guard be forced, upon pain of being fired, to participate in capital punishment? Should a healthcare worker be required, as a condition of continued employment, to be the one to stick the needle in the prisoner's arm and inject the poison into his veins?Or, more closely to people's hearts here -- should professors and instructors at universities be required to teach only what the administration tells them to teach even if they are personally opposed to it? Should one who holds himself out to be a Catholic priest be forced to be faithful to the teachings on the Church, or should he be free to dissent and smear the Church with accusations that teachings on so-called same-sex "marriage" are the moral equivilent of supporting slavery?Would people deny this clerk, and others like her, the very same things that they demand for themselves?

. . . . just where else should a government worker be forced to participate in what he or she sees as being fundamentally wrong?Bender,Shouldn't a distinction be made between a "government worker" and an elected official? Rose Marie Belforti, the town clerk being discussed here, was elected. Also, her deputy is doing what she will not do. Isn't she still responsible? As I have said a number of times, I have people who report to me, and I can't see how handing off something I considered immoral to one of them would get me off the hook. I do have people above me for a number of levels all the way up to the CEO who could bypass me and give orders to one of my direct reports, but as I understand the situation with the town clerk, the buck on this one stops with her.

They were asked to follow the same policy that every other couple who comes into the office is asked to follow. What is embarrassing about that?Jim,What is objectionable is that the policy was set because the policymaker has made it publicly known that she set the policy (or it was set for her) because she believes same-sex marriage is immoral. While I can understand why she may want to explain her position to the public, she has in effect set herself up as avery public opponent of same-sex marriage. I think somebody else mentioned this earlier, but there was a justice of the peace a couple of years ago who refused to perform interracial marriages. He had no problem marrying white couples or black couples. He claimed to have black friends whose homes he visited and who visited him. As I recall, he said he believed interracial marriages didn't work and didn't last. Their was a firestorm over his position, and he resigned. I think a good argument can be made that there are grounds for disapproving of interracial marriage that are not racist. But the consensus, which I think was probably correct, was that a justice of the peace who wouldn't marry any two people who came to him had to go. Same-sex marriage is now legal in New York, and it was made legal by a legitimate, democratic process. I really don't see how it is defensible for an elected official (the town clerk) to decided whose marriages are moral and whose are immoral, particularly when all she is asked to do is sign marriage licenses. I noted one town clerk in another town remarked that she was not particularly happy to issue hunting and fishing licenses, but she considered it part of her job. I do wonder if you feel that animal-rights activists, many of whom are passionate about their cause, should have a right to refuse to deal with hunting and fishing licenses. Should restaurant and cafeteria workers be supported if they refuse to serve meat?

Same-sex couples, in short, are asked to accomodate public officials thinking there is something wrong with them, and INSTITUTIONALIZING that opinion by a change in public practice.Let me give you the news: there actually has recently been a chance in public practice, that has been institutionalized. Until recently same-ex couples could not get married. The big change is that now same-sex marriage is legal: the institutional change (and the shift of public opinion) goes in the direction of giving same-sex couples more recognition, not less recognition! The minor incident at Ledyard is an effort to adapt the practice so as to incorporate this big change locally in a harmonious manner.This thread is an eye-opener for me regarding the rigid thinking, not of opponents, but of defenders of gay rights. I would never be able to work with my colleagues and assistants if we were so rigid!

Jim,I wonder how you (and others) think conscience claims should be regarded in the United States. Are there legitimate and illegitimate conscience claims? If I have some purely personal, but seemingly sincere, belief, should my conscience be accommodated? Or does society get to decide which kinds of claims get accommodated and which don't. If I am a nurse, for example, and I am religiously opposed to blood transfusions, may the hospital I work for not require me attend to patients who need transfusions. Or suppose I sincerely believe that parrots are sacred birds, I work for a vet, and I refuse to make appointments for people with parrots as pets. We seem (see above) to have decided that objections to interracial marriage are unacceptable, but objections to same-sex marriage may be accommodated. Also, what level of justification do require for a valid conscience claim? Would we see as legitimate a claim based on cows or monkeys being sacred animals because that is the case in India, and would we reject a claim based on a very sincere, but utterly personal, belief that parrots are sacred because there is no tradition that considers parrots sacred? Must we accept a claim from housekeepers or maids that washing windows offends their consciences? How much proof of reasonableness or sincerity do we require?

HI JIM AND CLAIRE (couldn't resist, sorry if the caps seemed like screaming. It was late and I did not have the energy to look up html code for bold).Jim: You and I agree that she is trying to protect her private view. Where we disagree is whether or not she should be able to use public policy to promote that view, and that is exactly what I think she is doing. An analogy is the names legislators give to legislation to indicate what the legislation is about (often very goofy names). Here, the clerk is implicitly giving a name to a change in government policy. This is the "Same-Sex Marriage is Immoral Policy" (rather than Act). Thus, she gets to use her elected office to promote a privately held belief, and I think that is wrong. This is not just a matter of some government function needing to be accomplished. It is an elected government official using her office to express a private moral conviction.Claire, yes, the law has recently changed, and that is the point. The law has been changed through democratic means. The County Clerk is using a non-democratic means (namely her fiat) to publicly affirm a personal moral conviction. I am sorry you see this as an overly strident position. It seems to me that same-sex couples, after having won the right to legally marry, are being asked to allow a public official to promote publicly the idea that same-sex marriage is immoral. The reason they are being asked to do this seems to me twofold: 1) elected officials can in good conscience be opposed to laws; and 2) others in society in good conscience agree in this case with the elected official. Both 1 and 2 are certainly correct, but neither of those reasons seem sufficient reason to allow the Clerk to do what she is doing.

David N wrote: "What is objectionable is that the policy was set because the policymaker has made it publicly known that she set the policy (or it was set for her) because she believes same-sex marriage is immoral. While I can understand why she may want to explain her position to the public, she has in effect set herself up as avery public opponent of same-sex marriage."Joe P wrote: "You and I agree that she is trying to protect her private view. Where we disagree is whether or not she should be able to use public policy to promote that view, and that is exactly what I think she is doing. An analogy is the names legislators give to legislation to indicate what the legislation is about (often very goofy names). Here, the clerk is implicitly giving a name to a change in government policy. This is the Same-Sex Marriage is Immoral Policy (rather than Act). Thus, she gets to use her elected office to promote a privately held belief, and I think that is wrong. This is not just a matter of some government function needing to be accomplished. It is an elected government official using her office to express a private moral conviction."I've pasted these two snippets adjacent to one another because I believe they cover roughly the same terrain. Certainly, I can see that it would bother a proponent of same-sex marriage that a public official utilizes the public platform that is available to public officials to make known her views. I am bothered by all sorts of nonsensical things spouted by elected officials at all different levels of government. I would suggest that, in a heterogeneous polity like the United States, proponents and opponents of a particular issue have to resign themselves to being served and ruled by public officials whose beliefs are at odds with one's own. Consider that Governor Cuomo, in working to pass the same-sex marriage law, did exactly the same thing this town clerk is accused of: used the bully pulpit of his position to promote his views on a controversial issue. And in doing so, he ticked off a lot of people. I don't doubt that there are citizens of the State of New York who have reviled him and verbally abused him for supporting same-sex marriage. President Obama, as I understand it, has taken this concept much farther and has crossed a line that this town clerk hasn't: he has instructed the Justice Department to *not enforce* certain laws, like the Defense of Marriage Act, which by law (and oath?) they are supposed to enforce. This would be the equivalent of the town clerk instructing everyone in her office to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.The obvious remedy to apply to elected officials whose personal views are inimical to one's owns is to support a candidate whose views coincide with one's own. And until the next election, to grit one's teeth and bear the presence of someone in public office with odious views.If we can sue elected officials for thinking and saying things we object to, I can keep a lot of lawyers busy for the rest of my life.

"I wonder how you (and others) think conscience claims should be regarded in the United States. Are there legitimate and illegitimate conscience claims? If I have some purely personal, but seemingly sincere, belief, should my conscience be accommodated? Or does society get to decide which kinds of claims get accommodated and which dont. "These are excellent questions, and they get to the heart of what the issue really is (in my opinion). I saw that Ann tried to raise them a little earlier, and I'm disappointed that nobody took her up on them.I have to say that I truly don't know the answer. I'm hoping that someone who has some insight into it will weigh in. My instinct is:* All else being equal, we should follow the law* If a person conscientiously objects to following the law, and the objection can be reasonably accommodated, we should accommodate it, even if it entails a certain amount of inconvenience or expense.Obviously, things like "reasonable" and "a certain amount" are subjective.

"Ann, I disagree there is no reason for the couple to be embarrassed,"JIm P. --Yes, there was reason, though not a good one. If you are seated comfortably in a third row seat of a theatre and a policeman comes and says you have been identified as the killer of somebody, and he leads you out of a theater in handcuffs you will be embarassed and with reason. If a parent corrects a child in public for something the child didn't do, the child will be embarassed. Maybe they shouldn't be.Much is made of the worst aspects of slavery. But there were "little" things that added up to terrible frustration and anger. For instance, the fact is that if the master said to a slave, "Get me a drink of water", the slave had to do it or else, and it wasn't the act itself that was so onerous but the fact that he *had to do it* or suffer the consequences. Apparenlty trivial acts can add up to big injustices and deep feelings. (Think of a sibling calling his sister "Fatty" all through school and her rage when he does it!) Homosexuals have suffered such "little" injustices as well as big one, and their anger is understandably deep. No, that couple doesn't have the right to have that registrar give them a licence. But they also have a right not to be embarassed when she *refuses* for what the society considers *no good reason*. The background facts of this "little" case are highly complex, and the case has huge ramifications.

Jim: this is not a bully pulpit issue, it is a policy issue. Talking about suing elected officials for their thoughts and words is not helpful. Every time a person gets a marriage license from the deputy Clerk, the position that same-sex marriage is immoral is reinforced.A president, like a sherrif, is in charge of the enforcement of laws. Each deploys resources as they see fit. Does their use of resources imply certain policy positions? Sure, but I think enforcement of policy, and the creation of new policy, are two different matters.

"Or, more closely to peoples hearts here should professors and instructors at universities be required to teach only what the administration tells them to teach even if they are personally opposed to it?"Bender - I hope someone takes you up on this, because the comparison is apt.I've opined here in the past that church catechists don't have the right to catechize beliefs that are contrary to those of the church, and if they can't teach what the church teaches in good conscience, they shouldn't be catechists.

Accommodations for Sikh policemen are OK in New York City. They can wear turbans even though opponents of the practice argue that they are given special religion-based exemptions from departmental rules, the public will not recognize them as traffic cops, they can't put on gas masks in an emergency, etc., etc.http://www.nytimes.com/2004/07/29/nyregion/two-sikhs-win-back-jobs-lost-... the town clerk would become a Sikh and move to New York City she could probably retain her job (and be a part of a "glorious mosaic").

"Jim: this is not a bully pulpit issue, it is a policy issue. Talking about suing elected officials for their thoughts and words is not helpful. Every time a person gets a marriage license from the deputy Clerk, the position that same-sex marriage is immoral is reinforced."I guess I'm not seeing that it is a policy issue. The policy seems to consist of two parts:(1) the policy of the State of New York is that the designated local government bodies shall issue same-sex couples a marriage license, presuming the couple meets whatever qualifications the State has legislated.(2) the policy of the Town of Ledyard is to obey that State policy, and the Town's Clerk's office has been designated to issue marriage licenses in accordance with that policy.From what we know, that is what is happening. I'm finding it impossible to think of what's objectionable to what is happening in Ledyard without attributing it to personal opinions and conscience. Sorry if I'm missing the point.

Ann, all of your examples seem to consist of singled-out or discriminatory treatment: I am publicly led away in handcuffs, but nobody else is; one child is chastised in public but no others are; my slaves need to fetch me a glass of water, but my white neighbors don't.That is the element that is lacking in the Ledyard scenario. A straight couple walks in a 1:55 and says, "we'd like marriage license." They're told, "make an appointment." The plaintiffs walk in at 2:00 and say, "we'd like a marriage license." They're told, "make an appointment." Another straight couple walks in at 2:05 and says, "we'd like a marriage license." They're told, "make an appointment."Does this get to the issue? Perhaps, in my scenario, the plaintiffs asked, "Why should we have to make an appointment? We're here now; you're here now; and you're the Clerk." Are there acceptable and unacceptable responses to that question? If she answered, "We have this policy because I'm unable, in good conscience, to issue same-sex couples a marriage license, so I've delegated the task to my subordinate", then I suppose many people would find that offensive (people get offended by all sorts of things, rightly or wrongly). On the other hand, if she responded, "we need you to make an appointment because that is the policy of this office; we've found that this works best for everyone involved", the couple may not be completely satisfied with the answer, and they may even suspect that they are dealing with a homophobe, but they have no real evidence for it, and many people in that situation would not be *offended* by such a response.Is this the sort of offense that people have been trying to get me to see?

519 comments posted at the NYT site about the Ledyard clerk.http://community.nytimes.com/comments/www.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/nyregio...(I like #11.)

If you go to the website of the local paper and search for Belforti, you'll find quite a few stories on this controversy from the local perspectivefor example, Residents blast gay marriage stance at Ledyard town board meeting. This is not just a battle between a lesbian couple and the town clerk. It is a public controversy in the town and in the town council.

Jim,A weakness in your theory is that the people of Ledyard don't find out about the policy by calling or showing up at the town clerk's office. The whole thing was aired at public meetings of the town council. Belforti wrote a letter to the town council saying she would not sign same-sex marriage licenses. She also seems, at first, to have refused to talk to the local press, but she did give an interview to some outlet of Focus on the Family. From what I can tell, it was the town council who told her not to sign any licenses (presumably because they knew it would be clear cut discrimination of she signed some rather than others). Many details are not clear, but it seems that there was very minimal use of deputy clerks in the past, so it is not clear whether this new arrangement requires a clerk that would otherwise not have been necessary. (Perhaps the reason for the appointment is so that a clerk can be summoned specifically to sign the license. It's unclear.) It seems clear that the town council does not function as Belforti's supervisor, so it is rather unclear that they have the authority to relieve her of her duties or assign someone else to do her work. She seems to have dumped the problem in their laps when the buck actually stopped with her.In any case, this is not a matter of a town quietly making a policy to accommodate the town clerk's opposition to same-sex marriage that was accidentally discovered. It is a matter of Belforti making formal public statements (and giving interviews) that she was going to refuse, and leaving it up to the town council, which is not responsible for supervising her, to figure out how the town could comply with the law. The current arrangement seems to be a temporary one, although what a permanent one would look like, I don't know.So one of my questions is whether Belforti fits the description of "government employee." What kind of duties can elected officials refuse to perform because of objections of conscience, and who is supposed to arrange to have someone carry out those duties when a public official refuses? We do, of course, have other elected officials with quite specific duties who do not report to supervisorsjudges and sheriffs, for example. Can judges and sheriffs refuse to fulfill obligations of their offices because they have objections of conscience?

Friends,I have enjoyed this back and forth. I am off to a wedding and will not return till the wee hours of the morning.Two quick thoughts: 1) Of course this matter involves the problem of conscience. I just think it is an inappropriate effort to accomodate conscience for reasons stated. 2) I think most people who strongly support same-sex marriage (as opposed to those for whom it is a "Meh!" issue) will oppose the action taken by the Clerk. That is, they would not just disagree with it, but would take efforts (as small as blogging about it) to oppose it. Thus, I do not think the characterization of the lawsuit as unreasonable is reasonable.To suggest that the lawsuit is unreasonable is to beg the question regarding whether or not there is anything wrong with the actions taken by the Clerk. It is more than agree/disagree with same-sex marriage. Those who oppose this, if they think along the lines I argued, would see this as a governmental effort to promote the position that same-sex marriage is immoral. Of course they will fight it.

One more "imagine if . . . ." What if Belforti objected to interracial marriage and argued that it was on grounds of conscience. Like the justice of the peace I mentioned, imagine she would sign licenses for white couples and black couples, but not interracial couples. Would arranging for a deputy to sign all licenses be a reasonable and fair compromise? I think the answer is no, and I think that is because in this day and age, when it comes to who marries whom, discrimination based on race, or combinations of races, or religion is simply unacceptable. The fact that people are arguing that Ledyard has come up with a reasonable compromise indicates that discrimination on the basis of gender or sexual orientation is still considered acceptable. When I presented the scenario in which it was licenses for Jews that a town clerk didn't want to sign, Jim Pauwels said, "Of course, there are other things that seem deeply wrong in that scenario, but whatever those things are, and the seem evident enough, they are not discrimination nor harm." So it seems "deeply wrong" when this "reasonable accommodation" is made to accommodate an anti-Semite, but it's reasonable and fair when a person objects to homosexuality rather than Judaism. The message to those exercising their right to enter into same-sex marriage is clear. We won't put up with anti-Semitism or racism, but people who are anti-homosexual must be accommodated. Of course, this is not a new insight.

"So it seems deeply wrong when this reasonable accommodation is made to accommodate an anti-Semite,"No, that is not what I wrote nor meant. What I find deeply wrong is that someone would find interracial marriage so morally objectionable that they would not sign a marriage license for such a couple. But her views on any given topic is a different consideration than the conscience protections to which she should be entitled.If conscience protections are allowable, shouldn't they be allowable to everyone? Even those who believe the most repugnant things, so long as they don't inflict any harm or discrimination on anyone?

" I think most people who strongly support same-sex marriage (as opposed to those for whom it is a Meh! issue) will oppose the action taken by the Clerk. That is, they would not just disagree with it, but would take efforts (as small as blogging about it) to oppose it. Thus, I do not think the characterization of the lawsuit as unreasonable is reasonable."You may be right about most people who strongly support same-sex marriage. But the intensity of the emotion doesn't help us discern what's right and what's wrong, and in fact intense emotions may be a hindrance to careful and insightful discernment. That's why strongly-opinionated prospective jurors are dismissed during voir dire, why victims aren't allowed to sentence perpetrators, and so on.I can well imagine someone being so pissed off by the policy that he or she would say, "We don't have to take their sh*t anymore. We'll sue their *sses off". But being really angry doesn't thereby bolster the merit of the case.

If conscience protections are allowable, shouldnt they be allowable to everyone? Even those who believe the most repugnant things, so long as they dont inflict any harm or discrimination on anyone?Jim Pauwels,Free speech? Yes, very probably. Conscience protection? No. If you really want to require employers to and government to cater to the consciences of terrorists, child molesters, rapists, and mobsters, I don't think you are going to find many to go along with you. Regarding conscientious objection and the military, I may not claim conscientious objector status no matter how deeply opposed, according to my own conscience, I am to a particular war. To claim conscientious objector status, a person must be sincerely opposed to all war. The military can send a man to fight and possibly die in Afghanistan no matter how opposed he is to the war there. Conscientious objection, to the best of my knowledge, is permitted only within limits set by society. Think once again of race. We do not exempt people from complying with civil rights laws because they have racist religious beliefs. We do not allow fundamentalist Mormons to enter into polygamous marriage because they believe God wants them to.

Conscientious objection, to the best of my knowledge, is permitted only within limits set by society.___________________If society approved, there would be no occasion for conscientious objection in the first place. Conscientious objection arises only when society demands that the person act against conscience.Actually, the limits to conscientious objection are not society, but truth. It is TRUTH which determines whether one has formed a "good conscience." An unjust law is no law at all, and far from being obliged to comply with it, a person of good conscience has an obligation to oppose it regardless of what society or the state or the king thinks.

Bender,I think you're off topic. We all know that an unjust law is not morally binding. The question here is when the legal system accommodates objections of conscience and when it does not. And the legal system determines the boundaries for legal accommodation of objections of conscience.

The question of the relationship of an unjust law (a seemingly objective status; it is unjust, not just in my opinion or because of my feelings, but by some criterion which claims priority over the law), and conscience rights, which seem to be subjective (I claim it only for myself, and don't insist that everyone's conscience be formed as mine is) is one I have been trying, a very little bit, to sort through because of this discussion. So I hope the discussion continues here.

"Actually, the limits to conscientious objection are not society, but truth. It is TRUTH which determines whether one has formed a good conscience."Bender --The possession of truth *ought* to be what determines conscience, i.e., our practical moral judgments -- and it *ought* to be what determines the consciences of the rest of society. But the problem is: who actually *has* all the truth needed to make objective judgments? There's the rub. The gay couple and the legislature of the State of New York think that they have the truth, while the registrar thinks that *she* has the truth -- and ALL of them have some purported truth on their side. Yes, the registrar can claim purported truth because she is relying on Scriptural interpretations that are older than the new interpretations. The conflict is between the *lived experiences* of the couple and the classic interpretations of Scripture. Which is true? Here is where, I think, philosophy really does become relevant. It, in conjunction with psychology and history can help us to see where our peer groups and others have gone wrong in describing reality, specifically in where Scriptural exegesis has sometimes been in eror. But even as regards philosophy, psychology and history they also are not perfectly reliable. So we are left with the uncertain leading the uncertain against a couple who might be have been swayed by self-interest, not the truth of their relationship.The best any of us can do is sincerely try to find what is true then to call it as we see it and adjust our moral thinking and acting to it. But there will always be disagreements among honorable people because we're all limited to some extent by our previous experiences and the opinions imposed on us from outside, as well as having our judgements clouded by self-interest at times.

". . . and conscience rights, which seem to be subjective (I claim it only for myself, and dont insist that everyones conscience be formed as mine is). . . "Jim P. --About conscience rights -- Of course they are subjective, at least in the sense that they are grounded in what the subject is (a rational being with the power to choose among alternative actions including good actions). I think there is now an unfortunate inclination to view subjective realities as somehow unreal. But they are supremely real -- our intelligence and capacity to choose what is good are subjective perfections, perfections of knowing, feeling, choosing, acting subjects.Insofar as they are real they are *good*. But our good choices are limited by the limits of what we know or can know. The sad fact is that sometimes we make mistakes in thinking and aren't even *aware* that we are mistaken. This leads us to do what is -- unknown to us -- objective evil. We are not responsible for that evil, because we don't *know* that it is evil. We chose it because we thought we were dealing with what is true/right/good. From that it follows that our choices are good even as our actions are evil in themselves. So a good conscience/right judgment, can be the result of a mistake. But this doesn't preclude the reality of a conscience oriented to what (it thinks) ought to be. And such good acts of the will need to be respected for what they are and are not -- good insofar as they are directed to what is good. The actions following from them, however, need not be tolerated because they are evil.It seems to me that the kinds of moral judgments involved in "conscientious objections" are not judgments that someone ought *to do* something, but rather that they ought *not to do* something. This can be tolerated because it doesn't add to the evil in the world. But rights of conscience do not extend to a right to actually *do* what is evil/unreasonable. For instance, people who believe in snake handling as a religious ritual do not have any sort of conscience right to involve their children in such rituals --- the children could be killed by the poisonous snakes. Neither do rights of conscience extend to not doing what a person ought to do for another -- for instance, a parent cannot withhold necessary medical care to a child.Then there is the question of Catholic health care rights -- the right *not to do* what the nuns never offered to do in the first place (abortions) and which the law does *not* require *anybody else* to do. As I see it, this is selective slavery -- forced service/employment from someone who declines to serve/work for you in particular ways. It's a whole different issue from the other kinds of cases. What is does is deprive mostly poor people of care they would have gotten otherwise, but not abortions.

The question here is when the legal system accommodates objections of conscience and when it does not._______________With all due respect, that might be your question, but it is not the question of those whom the state seeks to compel to act wrongly. Whether the legal system accommodates or not, the freedom of conscience remains.Of course, that might mean that, in such a system, the only place for a just person is in prison, as Thoreau wrote, but so be it. There are far worse things than jail.We need a LOT more Thomas Mores in this country, especially since there are far too many Henrys.

She doesn't like the forms.http://auburnpub.com/news/opinion/blogs/eye_on_albany/article_12432444-d... that:- Question 3C asks for sex on the form, but it is an optional question."This could be a problem because we will never know if unisex names are used, whether they are the same sex or not," Belforti said.- Questions 6 and 7 ask for "father or parent" and "mother or parent." The old form asked for mother and father."This is a problem for family heritage. A parent could be a neighbor. This will destroy genealogical importance of records," she said.

Bender --Freedom of conscience is not absolute, neither in civil law nor Church law, even though the Church says we must follow our consciences. So this wholel issue seems to me to be one of those moral cases in which there simply is no entirely fair solution. Yes, it is a good thing for the civil law to respect consciences as much as possible without actually condoning something that will positively injure someone (the couple in t his case will not be prevented from getting a license no matter which way the Court decides). That is why I think that the reasonable solution is to have them get the license signed by the deputy and thus make it possible for an honorable woman to retain her job. Having honorable people in public office -- even when we or even the courts do not always agree with them -- is a positive good, I think. It gives people good example with regard to doing what we think is right. Yes, there can be conflicts, but the reasonable thing is to avoid them if no one is actually injured by someone following a warped conscience.Given all the circumstances of this case, I don't think the couple is being humiliated, they're only being a bit inconvenienced.

Given all the circumstances of this case, I dont think the couple is being humiliated, theyre only being a bit inconvenienced.Ann,They are being a bit inconvenienced because the person whose job it is to issue their marriage license considers them immoral, and the city government is accommodating her. Once again, back to the analogies. If it were a black heterosexual couple, and the town clerk believed that blacks were inferior and shouldn't get married, do you think there would be no harm, only inconvenience, to a black couple who had to make an appointment to get a license? Are white supremacists "honorable" if they stick to their principles and avoid dealing with black people?

David N. ==Your analogy isn't exact. If the black couple were being discriminated against because the registrar just didn't *like* black people, that is quite different from objecting to them on religious grounds, if such indeed were to exist. If such a religious belief actually caused harm and not just inconvenience to the black couple, then the situation would be different.. But if the issue is just inconvenience in either the gay couple's case or the black couple's case, then I say go with letting the deputy registrar issue the licenses.There is simply no way in a democratic society that everyone can please everyone. The question is: will the government deny services on the basis of creed, color, or sexual orientation, or whatever. This is not a case of denying services.

As a federal employee, I am keenly aware that I am a public servant, first and foremost. I must admit I am truly perplexed over much of the discussion here and perhaps it's because it appears that the role of a public servant is not well-understood here. The excuses on this blog provided for this lousy-serving public servant, "...because of her conscience" , really shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of being a public servant in my view.Public servants (elected or hired - makes no difference) serve the whole swath of people whom they are charged to serve. A public servant expresses fealty to the law and applies the laws of the state in their daily duties. In using a "pick and choose" personal conscience-clause-license to determine what duties out of their job description they will perform, a public servant is fundamentally ignoring and then violating the very nature of their job. Understanding this has nothing to do with rigidly defending gay rights. The intrinsic nature of being a public servant is to serve the people without regard to creed, color, sexual orientation, gender, and on and on. It also means serving those who hate you, abuse you and then saying "thank you" to them for it before and afterwards. Believe me.Providing, yes, Customer Service, is an enormous part of the job. I am convinced that much of the derision in this country towards "government employees" comes from the unavoidable encounter almost all of us must have with one at least once a year. Maybe at the DMV, maybe at the IRS, maybe USPS, maybe City Hall. We usually must show up at hours seemingly set for the convenience of the employees and NOT for the public (Hello?? 9:30 to 5:00 p.m. are rather common hours with "Summer hours" even less). We show up and often find that the "public servant" seems to not want to serve, expressed in all kinds of ways. Showing up and learning that an appointment is required is one of the worst inconveniences for those seeking help, including those seeking commonly-issued and state-required licenses. The agency where I work (and have for nearly 25 yrs) employs such practices in very limited circumstances (it's always a staffing-budget issue) and even so, requiring appts causes a lot of hardship and a lot of anger in a lot of people. I know because I get the call, and I see the studies and surveys taken by my agency that shows the public citing such practices as a hardship to them. It's a big enough deal that Congress gets involved regularly in their hearings and in statutes passed regulating walk-in office procedures. All this, even tho the public whom we serve (in the government dept I work for) in almost every instance can receive the help they need without having to go into an office. There isn't any other option for the people of this county but to go in person for the license they require. It is often not just an inconvenience but a BURDEN for the people to require them show up to make the appt, and then come back for an appt. And many folks on this blog won't even concede that it's a fundamental inconvenience. Which it is. Being told to make an appointment because a particular public servant has chosen not to do a portion of her job (the reasons notwithstanding) is a terrible inconvenience. It has to do with someone not doing their job. If they won't do their job, the door should not be an option but a requirement. The icing on this foul cake is the fact that this clerk has carried out the invoking of "conscience" in a manner that casts doubt onto the truth of her conscience. In the least, her behavior reveals an intrinsic contradiction, as David N has consistently pointed out. In reality, she exposes herself as having a self-serving "conscience": as-it-is-convenient-for-me. If this clerk, an official of the county, found it immoral to do a part of her job in serving the public, then delegating to an underling would be unthinkable. As the county official in charge, she is still responsible for the marriage licenses going out to same-sex couples. She is the elected clerk, she wears the mantle, holds the office, and is responsible, ultimately, for all the licenses issued by the government employees working under her. That is the job she sought and is holding. The moral issue here is that she is holding a job, a portion of which she refuses to do herself. And it's under: "The boss who doesn't want to do their job and found someone else to do her duties for her", not, "She has a conscience prohibiting her from issuing same-sex marriage licenses". Looks to me as though she is a poster child for the narrative of "just another lazy government worker getting away with doing a half-assed job that they are being paid to do" NO?YES!In my opinion, she has a poor work ethic as a public servant and should be fired by the city council or recalled by the electorate. If she is truly bothered by issuing same-sex marriage licenses, the claim she makes, then she wouldn't tolerate herself nor anyone in her charge to issue them. She therefore could not carry out the laws of the state, her proper role and job as a public servant, and should resign.

Your analogy isnt exact. If the black couple were being discriminated against because the registrar just didnt *like* black people, that is quite different from objecting to them on religious grounds, if such indeed were to exist. Ann,Please remember we are discussing conscience, not just religious belief. How do you determine when a person has a genuine objection of conscience rather than just not "liking" the group he or she wishes to discriminate against? Regarding my example, let's make it interracial marriage. Up until the 1970s, Mormons were opposed to interracial marriage as a matter of religious belief. Also, here a paragraph from a Time Magazine story about Archbishop Rummel. (I want to see this made into a movie!)

Suddenly, as Rummel appeared, a distraught, dark-haired woman flung herself through the gathering and fell on her knees before him. "I ask your blessing," cried Mrs. Bernard J. Gaillot, 41, one of the three who had been named in the excommunication order. "But I am not apologizing. Look up to heaven and admit that you know it's God's law to segregate. Don't listen to Satan, listen to God." Startled, Rummel said nothing, and Mrs. Gaillot was led away by some of the women pilgrims. "May God have mercy on you!" she said to the archbishop as she rose from her knees.

There were those (and I am sure they still exist) who opposed integration on religious grounds. Suppose there is a city with an overabundance of justices of the peace, and there is only one of them who is opposed by conscience to interracial marriage. Suppose a mixed race couple comes to him and says, "We want you to marry us," and he refuses, but he says, "Right next door is a justice of the peace who will marry you. Give me five minutes and I will arrange it." Should he be exempt from nondiscrimination laws because (a) he has an objection of conscience (based upon religious belief) that interracial marriage is immoral and (b) because the interracial couple has only to wait five minutes?

Agree with Marcia and with David N.Depressing to see how many excuses and rationalizations have been offered in support of a public servant who refuses to serve her employers. A poster thinks it's an insult instead of a compliment to say a college is "pretty gay". A poster thinks there's no "genuine harm" in an elected official's classifying voters and deciding not to serve members of one class. Easy to understand the suicides.

Ann,Your positions seems to be that in a pluralistic, democratic society like ours, there can be no higher value than the right to consciencethat there is no position of conscience so offensive that "reasonable" accommodation may not be made to allow for it, as long as once the accommodation is made, all groups are treated equally. So if I am in a position of authority, and a subordinate comes to me and says, "Jews by reason of their fault are sentenced to perpetual servitude (Aquinas), and it is offensive to my conscience to perform any service for a Jew," I am required to say, "Let me see how I can accommodate you. I have enough people working for me so I think I can arrange it that you must never deal with Jews." Or if the subordinate says, "I believe that black skin is the mark of Cain, and it is offensive to my conscience to perform any service for a black person," I am supposed to say, "Let me see what I can work out. You understand, though, that if I can't find someone to cover for you, I might just have to require you to perform services for black people." You seem to be implying that if I, as a supervisor, say, "I find your anti-Semitism (racism) abhorrent. You will perform services for Jews (or blacks) the same way you perform services for everyone, or you will be fired," the person I say this to will have a right to bring legal action against me for violating his or her conscience, and should win that action because I didn't make a reasonable attempt to accommodate his or her conscience. You seem to be saying that if I run an organization (business, town government, etc.), it is my duty to find a way to accommodate racists and anti-Semites, as long as my organization treats all blacks and Jews equally. If I run, say, a large barber shop, staffed by enough barbers so that no customer has to wait for a haircut, if I have racist or anti-Semitic barbers, I am obliged to say, "You don't have to cut the hair of a Jew or a black person, just so long as we can limit the waiting time for all individuals to a few minutes. After all, if the blacks or Jews went somewhere else for a haircut, they would have to wait longer, so in order to accommodate you, black and Jewish customers can wait three minutes here, along with everyone else, and still get a haircut faster than if they went somewhere else." In reality, if I ran such a barber shop, and an employee came up to me and said, "I claim a right of conscience not to cut the hair of Jews," I would say, "You're fired," and I would say it without fear of having a civil rights complaint fired against me. You seem to be saying no conscience claim is so offensive that, if it can be easily accommodated, it should be honored.

AS a rertired government worker, I agree with Marcia's view.Do your job but if your conscience is deeply troubled by what you're asked, look elsewhere (infortunately in these troubled times.)

"You seem to be saying no conscience claim is so offensive that, if it can be easily accommodated, it should be honored:"Bob N. --I said no such thing. I said that prudence sometimes dictates that given two possible evil results that in some cases less harm is done by one choice than by another. Prudence simply cannot be generalized in the way we would like. In the case as described I say that from the looks of it less harm is done by asking the gay couple to wait for the asst. registrar than by firing the registrar. If I were half of a gay couple I think I would understand that argument. I wouldn't like it, but who likes whom or what is not the issue.There is a tendency in human nature to confuse what we *feel*, positive or negative, with what we *know*. It is a major reason, I think, that ethical decisions are so very hard -- it is hard to know when we are being objective. Sure, we sometimes make mistakes (see my reaction to Scalia when I didn't know it was Scalia whom I was listening to). We can but try.

Bob N. and David N. ==Sorry, I've done it again -- said Bob when I should have said David. And it's not as if your comments are so similar I can't tell you apart. I seem to have some crossed wires in the language part of my brain. Sigh.

I said no such thing. Ann,You are right! I had mistakenly remembered a comment from someone else as being something you had said. Apologies.

DAVID --'S awrite :-)

[...] Original post: Gay Marriage and Religious Freedom – Commonweal (blog) [...]

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