Last month, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans think Davis should be obligated to issue marriage licenses to all qualified couples despite her well-known religious objection to marriage equality.
Now comes word that Davis can’t even get the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) to agree with her. Given that church’s theocratic past and its well-known anti-gay views, one might think Davis would find some allies there.
One would be mistaken. Three days ago, a leading Mormon said Davis was wrong when she refused to fulfill all the duties of her government job.
“[Public officials] are not free to apply personal convictions – religious or other – in place of the defined responsibilities of their public offices,” LDS Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said in a speech in California. “A county clerk’s recent invoking of religious reasons to justify refusal by her office and staff to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples violates this principle.”
Oaks is a former Utah Supreme Court justice, and his remarks focused on the importance of obeying the law regardless of one’s conscience.
“Believers should … acknowledge the validity of constitutional laws,” he said. “Even where they have challenged laws or practices on constitutional grounds, once those laws or practices have been sustained by the highest available authority, believers should acknowledge their validity and submit to them.”
He added that there should be no “belligerence between religion and government,” rather “[t]hese two realms should have a mutually supportive relationship.”
Oaks also attacked the divisive nature of Davis’ action.
“Extreme voices polarize and create resentment and fear by emphasizing what is nonnegotiable and by suggesting that the desired outcome is to disable the adversary and achieve absolute victory,” he said. “Such outcomes are rarely attainable and never preferable to living together in mutual understanding and peace.”
(Not everything Oaks said was great. He criticized the idea of a wall of separation between church and state, calling for a curtain instead!)
Religion News Service noted that Oaks’ remarks represent the first public comments on Davis by a high-ranking LDS official. (He is second in line for the LDS presidency). That Oaks does not agree with Davis is significant because the LDS Church was a leading opponent of marriage equality as it spread throughout this country in the 2000s. In fact, the Mormons led the charge for California’s Prop. 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state until it was later struck down in federal court.
Despite the LDS Church’s history of opposing marriage equality, Davis is tough to support even for those who do not advocate for gay rights. After all, she not only refused to do her job, she also prevented her subordinates from doing theirs. Beyond that, there is evidence to suggest that her stand for “religious freedom” is little more than a calculated stunt to bring her fame and fortune.
Fortunately, Oaks wasn’t fooled by Davis’ attempt to portray herself as a humble “soldier for Christ.” Instead, he wisely recognized that Davis and her ilk could do great harm to American democracy.
“Differences on precious fundamentals are with us forever,” he said. “We must not let them disable our democracy or cripple our society. This does not anticipate that we will deny or abandon our differences, but that we will learn to live with those laws, institutions and persons who do not share them. We may have cultural differences, but we should not have ‘culture wars.’”
Oaks is spot on. Our society is governed by laws, but those laws mean little if anyone can be exempted from them under the guise of “religious freedom.” The culture wars certainly aren’t going away anytime soon, but rational religious voices like Oaks make it increasingly likely that Davis and her supporters will lose in the end.