On Marriage Licenses

“It’s about time somebody stood up for religious freedom,” Mr. Bates said. “That one clerk in Kentucky is a true American hero.”

Mr. Magundi looked thoughtful. “No one respects religious principles more than I do,” he said, “and I would certainly admire a woman who would resign from her job if the job required her to do something against her religious principles.

“But why did that point not come long ago? Are there no Catholics in that part of Kentucky? To an evangelical Protestant who believes that the Pope is the Antichrist, surely it must be the greatest of all sins to be a Catholic; and to provide marriage licenses to Catholics is nothing short of abetting their satanic rituals.

“Or what if the clerk is Catholic? How much worse the situation is then! A Catholic believes that marriage is a sacrament. No marriage outside the Church is a marriage at all. Every Baptist or Hindu or Unitarian couple that comes in for a marriage license is demanding a license to live in mortal sin. How could a Catholic clerk issue those licenses with a clear conscience?

“Here we run against an absurdity buried so deep in the American political consciousness that we never even see it as an absurdity at all. We are permitted to work ourselves into a foamy lather of righteous outrage over inconsequential things like government spending or immigration or sex, but the principle of ‘freedom of religion’ is embedded so deeply in our minds that the really important things, the fundamental differences of opinion on the nature of truth and the eternal destination of every human being, leave us blandly indifferent. A county clerk who broke through that wall of indifference and realized that she was, according to her own most deeply held beliefs, paving the way to hell for countless couples who held the wrong beliefs about the things that affect immortality would fall on her knees and beg Jesus, or Kukulkan, or Guanyin, or Allah, for forgiveness. And then she would immediately resign her job, which is what this woman in Kentucky should do. If she cannot reconcile herself to the absurdity that government as such must be indifferent to the very things to which no sane human being can be indifferent, then good for her. She is a splendid and consistent human being. But the job requires that indifference; if she is above that indifference, she cannot do the job, and the government needs someone who can do the job.”