Gay marriage, divorce, and the Gospels

Whatever religion Kim Davis is suffering for, it’s not the one preached in the Gospels.

Ted Cruz’s statement on Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk now in jail for defying a court order to do her job by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, demonstrates once again that a high IQ and excellent meritocratic credentials are consistent with functional idiocy, and that functional idiocy is no bar to being treated as a “mainstream” Presidential candidate. (Walker, Jindal, Rand Paul, and of course Huckabee, all came out the same way.)

Of course Davis wasn’t arrested “for living according to her faith.” She was arrested for refusing to do what a judge, after a hearing, ordered her to do. She could have avoided jail by (1) doing the job she gets paid for; (2) allowing her clerks to issue the licenses she doesn’t want to sign; or (3) resigning. She chose to do none of these, and she’s in the clink. That’s life in the big city. When she gets out, she will no doubt spend several years collecting some kind of wingnut welfare.  To liken her to victims of genuine religious persecution is an insult to those victims.

On some level Cruz is plenty smart enough to understand all this, but he’s decided to make a career out of not understanding it.

There’s been some rather indecent glee among supporters of same-sex marriage about Davis’s own rather colorful marital history. There ought to be a strong presumption that a public official’s private life is off-limits in political debate, and Davis has on the face of it a reasonable case that behavior predating her religious conversion is irrelevant to her current beliefs.

But, as Lt. Colombo used to say, there’s just one more thing. Davis claims to be acting as a Bible Christian. Adultery violates one of the Ten Commandments. (Male/male sex violates a rule that’s on a list with eating shellfish, and female/female sex is never mentioned.) And Jesus of Nazareth – breaking with existing tradition in the interest of protecting women against being cast off by their husbands – says quite explicitly (Matt 5:32 and Luke 16:18) that marriage with a divorced woman (or marriage by a divorced man) constitutes adultery.

Therefore, by Biblical standards Ms. Davis’s sin is not in the past. Every time she has sex with her current husband, both of them are – according to the one they acknowledge as the Son of God – violating one of the Ten Commandments. The only way she could stop sinning would be to live as a celibate from now on (just like all those gay folks are supposed to do).

So, whatever religion Kim Davis is suffering for, it’s not the one preached in the Gospels.

This analysis suggests a question for Cruz and the other Republicans coming out in support of Davis:

If an elected county clerk who was an actual Bible Christian refused to issue licenses for the remarriage of divorced people with living spouses, on the grounds that his religion forbade him to connive at adultery, would that be legitimate exercise of individual conscience? And should divorcees in that county remain unable to marry?

Footnote There’s a general point here: Lots of the stuff that’s done in the name of “Christianity” has as little to do with the Bible as some of the stuff done in the name of “Islam” has to do with the Koran. In each case, local customs have been engrafted onto a larger religious tradition. As Don Marquis said, an idea isn’t responsible for the people who believe it. Especially, as he might have added, when they really don’t.








Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

13 thoughts on “Gay marriage, divorce, and the Gospels”

  1. You accuse Cruz of "functional idiocy" and of "mak[ing] a career out of not understanding it." But isn't it equally possible that Cruz, who Alan Dershowitz said was one of the smartest law students he ever taught, is only pretending to not understand?

    I once heard Cruz arguing that there should be no exceptions to the Second Amendment, just as there are no exceptions to the First Amendment. Even if Cruz had been one of the dumbest law students Dershowitz ever taught, he would know that the First Amendment has numerous exceptions, including falsely shouting fire in a theater, threatening someone with bodily harm, conspiring to commit a crime, obscenity, child pornography, fighting words, and others. Cruz is a liar. It is possible that he lies to himself, but that shouldn't get him off the hook.

    1. Perhaps he meant exactly what he said: “just as”. As in, any exceptions to the 2nd amendment need to be of the same character as exceptions to the 1st: Involving actual harm, or the immediate and serious risk of the same. Not casual speculation, or remote inference.

      An unsympathetic reading of almost any statement makes it look like idiocy, since few people speak in complete sylogisms. The person sympathetic to the viewpoint fills in the obvious omissions, the person unsympathetic to the viewpoint simply assumes that they represent stupidity, rather than refraining from being long winded.

      1. Just for the record, obscenity is an exception to your statement that exceptions to the First Amendment must be justified as preventing actual harm or the risk of harm. Even the U.S. Supreme Court has not claimed that obscenity is harmful. The closest it has come was in Roth v. United States (1957), when it said that prohibiting obscenity protects "the social interest in order and morality."

        Also, I wasn't quoting Cruz, and I don't think that he said "just as." He said something closer to, "We don't have exceptions to the First Amendment, do we?" I saw this on a video on the Internet, if you care to look for it. He said it at Senate hearings while questioning a witness.

  2. Ms. Davis wanted the freedom to take away the freedom of other people. This is called “power” where I come from.

    Ted Cruz and Kim Davis do not know the difference between freedom and power (for them). Conservatism shows its authoritarian side with great clarity in this particular case, and it is about time for major political figures (I am looking to you, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton) to begin to call conservatives out on what they have become. It is time for “conserve” itself to become a byword and an epithet, just as “liberal” has been for the past generation and a half

  3. There is such a thing as legitimate authority, which is vested in courts and legislatures and executives acting within their respective domains of power. The case of Kim Davis falls within the scope of Romans chapter 13, that every soul be subject to the governing authorities—not a Biblical passage she cares to apply to her own case but relevant nevertheless. Perhaps someone on Christian TV will mention this today but I have work to do and will not be able to listen for it.

  4. True, it has been mentioned many times that she would have greatly resented being denied a marriage license after her first divorce if a county clerk had had religious scruples about enabling her to become an adulteress. And she deserves scorn for desiring mercy and understanding for herself but denying it to others. But Romans 13 should be part of the discussion.

    What is legitimate authority and how is it to be exercised? This is the meta-issue under which innumerable primary issues are included. The Republican base has shown us recently that it thinks that authority should be vested in a strong leader who will crush his enemies and not be restrained by the niceties of longstanding institutions such as courts of law. This question deserves to be front and center in this political season. Will anyone put it there where it belongs?

  5. Even though it isn't early in the morning, it *feels* too early in the morning for this.

    But just for fun, my online Bible source says this:

    “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’
    But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

    Matthew 5:31-32;

    Sorry but I'm seeing wiggle room (unlawful?) Mind you, I don't do this for a living. Also as a Catholic, one of my (bad?) habits is that I don't bother with literal interpretation. And to be frank, much of the time, I don't understand the Gospels. I think Jesus did it on purpose! To make us think, darn it. Plus I have a mild crush on a divorced guy, who's probably not interested anyway. So there's that.

    I think she is sincere and also wrong in many many ways. And she should resign. Someone's giving her bad advice, or maybe she ran on purpose for this? Who knows. I have my own problems. I pay no attention to Cruz. Brains are overrated.

  6. "…demonstrates once again that a high IQ and excellent meritocratic credentials are consistent with functional idiocy…"

    No, it doesn't. This is because nothing can be deduced, from what Mr. Cruz says, about his mental workings or capacities. He is telling a story. There is no way to determine whether he, as an individual, believes that story; nor does it matter.

    Even with regard to his audience (which is what you ought to be looking at, instead of him), "idiocy" is not exactly the right concept. There is a complete disconnect between rational and irrational modes of thought — this much is clinical. Many of them "know better", but they still want to hear the story. On that level, the failure is one of taste — which is not to minimize it.

  7. Agree 100% with your takedown of Mr. Cruz.
    There's another issue afloat here: nepotism.

    My local paper reported today:

    Kim Davis worked there for 27 years when her mother ran the place.
    Now Kim is running the shop and her own son is on the public payroll.

    Ever live in a small town?
    I did, and this sort of blatant nepotism brings back ugly memories.
    One of the happiest days of my life was when my particular small town disappeared in the U-haul's rear view.

  8. Assume that Ms. Davis was a meat inspector and was also an orthodox Jew. She could not touch pork and thus, to the extent that her job required her to inspect pork, she couldn't carry out that part of the job due to her religious beliefs. I happen to think that in such an instance, there may be some accommodation possible that should be made. For instance, the orthodox Jew could "trade" his "pork assignments" with non-Jews for beef or poultry assignments. But that is not this case.

    Here, it would seem clear that the Court was not requiring Ms. Davis to, herself, perform marriage ceremonies or even to, herself, issue marriage licenses to gay or lesbian couples. In this case, she seeks, not to exercise her religion, but to impose it upon others, because she directed her deputy clerks not to perform marriage ceremonies or issue licenses.

  9. The real position of American conservatives on divorce is that of the Prophet Mohammed: sex should be in marriage, and divorce should be easy.

  10. I find the divorce angle interesting in this case because I’ve often heard Christians say that gays are going to hell because they cannot repent their “sin” as long as they intend to continue in it. Kim Davis claims to have been thrust into a “Heaven and Hell” conflict, when it’s quite clear, according to her own dogma, that no such conflict exists — as an unrepentant adulterer, her fate is already determined independent of anything she might be required to do on the job.

  11. I for one am getting very tired of hearing about what a genius Ted Cruz is supposed to be. It seems to almost be a necessary disclaimer for anyone who criticizes him.

    I don't think he's a genius. I don't even think he's particularly smart. He might be some sort of legal idiot-savant, but the policy positions he has taken, going back to his Senate race at least, are not those of an intelligent person.

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