I have been reading about civil servants refusing to issue marriage certificates or other legal documents to homosexual couples. It seems like these civil servants are taking it as a matter of proper civil disobedience to refuse to complete these documents. Most of what I have read leads me to believe that these civil servants are claiming that to issue these documents would be a violation of their religious beliefs, and so they are refusing to perform these duties of their office.
They are wrong. In numerous ways, they are wrong and it has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality or religion. In fact, the specifics of sexual orientation do not even need to be considered.
Civil disobedience has a long and distinguished tradition in the United States of America.
Civil disobedience is the active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.
I’m speaking of a civil servant defined as:
A civil servant or public servant is a person in the public sector employed for a government department or agency.
For example, when a County Clerk refuses to issue a marriage license, this is an instance of a civil servant refusing to perform the duty of their office.
Why is this wrong?
First, it is not civil disobedience. The person in the job is not being forced to obey the law. They have the option to vacate their office. This would be the proper course of action. Staying in office and refusing to perform one’s duty as prescribed by the oath a person takes on acceptance of that office is wrong. It is not civil disobedience; it is plain disobedience and this person should be dismissed if they refuse to resign.
Second, it is not a religious matter. Take an alternate example to illustrate. If the law says that muslims may marry, then a County Clerk cannot refuse to issue a marriage certificate because they do not believe muslims should marry based on their religious beliefs. Again, the civil servant has the option of resigning. They are not being forced to perform. Their job requires them to uphold the Constitution whether they like it or not.
Thirdly, it violates the separation of powers as intended by the Constitution. The Supreme Court has determined who can be married. If anyone meets those guidelines, the County Clerk shall issue a marriage certificate. Allowing them to not do so would give the Executive branch power to supersede the Judicial branch, circumventing the intended balance of authority that the framers of the Constitution intended.
Christ said to “render unto Caesar” with the intent of telling His followers that we Christians need not force our beliefs into our government, rather, that this was an unrelated matter. Government should be like mathematics. There is no “Christian math.” There is just math. And we do not need a “Christian government” to have Christians in the government and Christians making up the people being governed. Our job as Christians is to be a good witness, doing our jobs rightly in a way that reflects well on Christ: and refusing to perform the duties we have sworn to perform is not the right way to go about it.
The best way to manage a law you don’t like is not to cry that the nation is falling apart because the law was passed; it is to work to convert people to Christianity regardless of what is legal. The law has little or nothing to do with Christianity. Christ told us to obey the laws. But living like Christ is rarely anything like following civil laws. It is not illegal to give to the poor, nor is it illegal to ignore the poor: it is simply not a factor. It is not illegal to lie, but it is sinful. It is not illegal to dishonor your father or mother but it is sinful. The law is really not something we should be concerned with in that way.
So, the proper place to fight this battle was in the legislature and then in the courtroom. These battles were fought and they are over. It is now the responsibility of the civil servant to serve. The option of resignation is available and honorable if their disagreement runs deep enough to require they not participate in the performance of their duties any longer. Otherwise, they must execute their duties as described in their job titles or they should be removed from office.