Attorney General Marty Jackley says if a county employee in South Dakota has religious objections to gay marriage they can have another employee issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
…Jackley says if another county employee was able issue a license, it would be a “commonsense solution” and wouldn’t violate the rights of the couple or the employee. He says if someone else was not available, another county or the state could issue a license [“AG: Marriage Rights Must Coexist with Religious Freedom,” AP via KELOLand.com, 2015.07.02].
No, Marty. No, no, no. A county employee cannot invoke First Amendment religious freedom to be derelict in her duty. If you take a job in a government office—county, public school, state, federal, whatever—you sign up to carry out the actions of the state. From 8 to 5, you are an agent of the State. You are the State, and when you are the State, you do not have the same First Amendment rights as when you are acting solely as a citizen. When you are the State, you take on the State’s obligation not to have a religion. The State must accord all citizens equal respect and equal rights and do its job.
The Brown County auditor cannot refuse to register a gay man to vote and force him to go register in Day or McPherson County, just because she can invoke some religious objection to his registering under the last name he takes from his gay spouse. The state Attorney General cannot refuse to receive a complaint from a woman having her period just because he’s an Old Testament fundamentalist who believes menstruating women are taboo (and he certainly can’t say to a South Dakotan, “Go to talk to the Nebraska Attorney General”). A county clerk cannot not liken a gay couple’s marriage to loving dogs and refuse to issue the marriage license that the Supreme Court says it is her job to issue.
You don’t have to approve of same-sex marriage. You don’t have to attend a same-sex marriage. You don’t have to invite your gay cousin Adam and his new hubby Steve over for the Fourth of July. But if you want to work for the secular government, you have to carry out the legal obligations of your government job, and that will include issuing any and all licenses, documents, payments, and other services authorized by your boss, the government, to all citizens, regardless of your personal political, philosophical, and religious views.
And if you can’t do that job, maybe you need to go be a church secretary, not a public employee. If Attorney General Marty Jackley can’t make that First Amendment distinction clear to his fellow public employees, maybe AG Jackley needs to seek gainful employment elsewhere as well.