When Defiance of Marriage Law Was Hailed as Heroic

by Nicholas Frankovich

Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who will not issue marriage licenses to anyone because, she says, she cannot in good conscience issue them to same-sex couples is being sharply criticized for lawlessness and abuse of her office.

Consider a few of the precedents for her conduct:

In 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco directed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of California state law.

In 2004, Mayor Jason West of New Paltz directed city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of New York state law.

In 2010, attorney general Jerry Brown declined to answer legal challenges to California’s marriage law, which, after Proposition 8, was that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid.” His job was to represent the state of California in legal matters and defend its laws, including those he didn’t like.

In 2013, D. Bruce Hanes, an official of Montgomery County, began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in defiance of Pennsylvania state law.

The history of the movement to redefine marriage is shot through with defiance of laws that those who broke them sincerely felt were deeply wrong. To be consistent, anyone who thinks that Newsom, West, Brown, and Hanes were courageous and principled must now judge Davis by the same standard.

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