Gay Marriage and Petty Bureaucrats: Power vs. Responsibility

Posted on July 6, 2015


One might think that the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide would signal an end to the matter of gay marriage. But no, now we have low-level judges and county clerks standing in the way, refusing to issue marriage licenses because they believe that their personal religious beliefs and their consciences trump the highest court in the land.

I suppose these people think that they are exercising some kind of power inherent in their petty little offices, to “enforce what’ s right” according to their own thoughts on the matter. I have seen it before: administrative nugs who intentionally delay or “lose” someone’s paperwork out of spite, or who sadistically enjoy giving people the run-around. I once knew of a snitty little assignments clerk in Washington who had been stringing along a sergeant for nearly a year, only to rudely pull a bait-and-switch on him just weeks before his move. I knew of a pharmacist at an Army hospital who made it supremely difficult for female soldiers to obtain contraception. I knew of a security officer who refused to process people’s clearances – or who tried to revoke existing clearances – just because those people had the temerity to expect her to do her job. And I have known of many administrative clerks who delayed or “lost” people’s awards, job certifications, evaluations, insurance applications… you name it… out of some combination of incompetence, laziness, spite, and pompously inflated self-importance. One of the best jobs I ever had in the Army was being put in charge of a section full of these pogues, and bringing all of that to a screeching halt. Oh, how they hated me. Oh, how I loved that job.

These petty paper-pushers are wrong. Their little offices convey no power, only a responsibility to fulfill the duties that they signed up for. If they cannot or will not do their assigned work… all of it, efficiently and without impediment… then what they are really doing is shirking their duties, and they need to find some other job. Get out of the way and let someone else do the work. So, kudos to those clerks who have resigned – in Mississippi, and in Tennessee, for example. Those who refuse to step aside, flouting the authority of the Supreme Court, are rightly sued and could also face criminal charges.

In the final analysis, the Supreme Court decision is their interpretation of the definition of marriage. Check out the decision on Obergefell vs. Hodges for their reasoning, and you will see that the justices recognize that society changes over time, that the institution of marriage in the 21st century bears little resemblance to marriages of past centuries, and that we no longer perceive homosexuality as criminal, or as a mental illness. The laws and customs of a society must reflect that society. We were never a theocracy; we have intentionally separated Church and State from our very beginnings; and we have evolved as a nation and as a society. All of this may be lost on religious fundamentalists, but it was not lost on the Supreme Court.