Bobby Jindal’s office assured Louisiana clerks that they can invoke his executive order on religious freedom if they have a conscientious objection to issuing a license to a gay couple, but that’s a risky proposition for a middle-class civil servant. Now that marriage is a constitutional right, a government official who attempts to deny that right is vulnerable to being sued for damages under federal law. One such suit has apparently already been filed against a clerk in Texas. Christie, a former U.S. Attorney, is offering them better legal advice than Jindal is here: If the new regime bothers them so much that they can’t uphold it, resigning may be the least expensive move.
He’s leaving a little wiggle room but I think it’s pro forma.
“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” Christie told reporters following a town hall at a lakeside home, noting there are laws that he enforces as governor that he disagrees with. “I’m sure there are individual circumstances that might merit some examination,” he added, “but none that come immediately to mind for me.”…
When asked about protection for clerks who object to providing same-sex marriage licenses, Christie implied that there could be specific accommodations made for religious exemptions on a case-by-case basis. But overall, he said those trying to opt out should rethink how they are doing their jobs.
“You took the job and you took the oath,” he said. “When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it.”
I wonder if, by next week, even the social conservatives in the field will still be urging clerks to resist. Huckabee probably will but Jindal, as a sitting governor, has been slowly retreating, first insisting that Louisiana doesn’t have to follow SCOTUS’s ruling until the local Circuit Court says so — which it now has — and then insisting that it doesn’t have to comply until the District Courts apply the Circuit Court’s ruling, which will be happening soon. In fact, some counties in Louisiana started issuing licenses days ago. That’s the most interesting angle to what Christie said — despite plenty of rhetoric about resistance after Kennedy’s opinion was handed down, it’s striking just how few clerks have taken an approach different from Christie’s by refusing to issue licenses. A few have, but as the NYT observed earlier this week, it’s been business as usual in most of the south. Unless I missed something, only two clerks nationally have resigned in protest rather than issue licenses, one in Arkansas and one in Mississippi, who ended up on Sean Hannity’s show last night to discuss her decision after her resignation letter got some attention online yesterday. Maybe that’s because there aren’t many clerks whose opposition to SSM runs deep enough that they’d risk their jobs or maybe it’s because, as some clerks in Texas complained, the state hasn’t signaled that it’ll back them up if they’re sued, increasing the risk of defiance. Christie will take a beating among people who already hate him for urging them to comply, but the fact of the matter is they’re already complying.