Military Analogies and Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis

Quite a few people have begun to trot out military analogies to explain or justify the jailing of Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis.  For some, they may have seen the effectiveness of using the military as a means to promote agendas over the past few years.  For others, the “clean cut” black/white nature of the military simply makes a convenient argument.

The general argument goes that because a military officer wouldn’t be able to refuse to do his job, then Davis shouldn’t either.

From Bryan Fulwider of the Interfaith Council of Florida: 

Similarly, a four-star general may suddenly become a pacifist. Indeed, that is his or her religious right. But if, because of those pacifist beliefs, the general refuses to order military attacks, his or her employment should cease. In no sense, in such a case, is the general a victim of religious persecution.

That’s an interesting story that really has nothing to do with Kim Davis, even in analogy.  The military is an organization whose purpose is to wage war.  If a military officer objected to that purpose, he would be opposing the primary duty of his position.  By contrast, the organizational purpose of the Rowan County Clerk is not to issue marriage licenses.  In fact, that role could be removed from the office altogether and the County Clerk would still have functional purpose.

In addition, were a General Officer to suddenly become a pacifist, he would have a deputy who could act in the stead of the office — apart from the person of the General.  The problem with the Rowan County Clerk office is that even the deputies can only act for the person — not the position — of the clerk, because the laws currently require her personal signature. (Reportedly, the deputies are now issuing altered licenses without her signature. Though the law hasn’t changed, the Kentucky Attorney General seems to think that’s permissible.)

Others have also tried to use the conscientious objector comparison to assert Davis has the right to resign but not the right to serve. The analogy fails for two reasons:

First, despite what some would call the gains of “erotic liberty,” there remains no inherent right — either human or constitutional — to serve in the military. While some may argue the specifics, most would say citizens of a democratic republic do have an inherent right to run for election and, if elected, serve in public office. Thus, a potential public servant has a greater claim to an office than does a potential military service member.

Second, the military remains a closed and inherently discriminatory society. For example, the US military can legally deny enlistment to someone who is overweight, while a county government could not deny a public office for the same reason. Thus, the US military has liberal authority to deny enlistment to or discharge someone who cannot perform the mission — based upon its own judgment. There is no equivalent for elected office, as is the Rowan County Clerk.

In both cases, the “it can’t happen in the military” is a convenient analogy, but it is not a good one.