As expected, the issue of so-called “religious liberty” exemptions and the newest poster-child for the cause, Kim Davis, was raised in the second round of the second GOP debate, with one presidential candidate decrying the clerk’s imprisonment as an example of the “criminalization of Christianity.”
Moderator Jake Tapper asked former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee bout his support for Kim Davis, noting that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush had previously said that Davis had sworn to uphold the law. “Is Governor Bush on the wrong side of the criminalization of Christianity?” asked Tapper.
“No, I don’t think he’s on the wrong side of such an issue. Jeb is a friend,” Huckabee responded. “I’m not here to fight with Jeb or anybody else. But I am here to fight for somebody who is a county clerk, elected under the Kentucky Constitution, which 75 percent of the people of that state voted for, that said that marriage was between a man and a woman. The Supreme Court, in a very, very divided decision, decided, out of thin air, that they were just going to redefine marriage.”
Huckabee then pointed out that, under the separation of powers, the Supreme Court cannot craft and pass legislation or enforce it to ensure a law is implemented.
“Here’s what happened: because the courts just decided that something was going to be, and people relinquished it, and the other two branches of government sat by silently — I thought we had three branches of government, they were all equal to each other. We had separation of powers, and we had checks and balances. If the court can just make a decision, and we just all surrender to it, we have what Jefferson called ‘judicial tyranny.'”
Huckabee also criticized the government for making religious accommodations for the Fort Hood shooter and for detainees at Guantanamo, but failing to extend similar accommodations to conservative Christians like Davis.
“You’re telling me you cannot make an accommodation for an elected Democrat clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky?” Huckabee said. “What else is it, other than the criminalization of her faith and the exultation of the faith of everyone else, who might be a Fort Hood shooter or a detainee at Gitmo?”
Tapper then tried to rope Bush into the conversation, saying that Bush apparently disagrees with Huckabee. But Bush said Tapper was not representing his views correctly. When asked to elaborate on those views, Bush said that there needed to be an accommodation that would allow same-sex couples to marry without forcing those like Davis to violate their personal beliefs. Bush also expressed support for a law — like the First Amendment Defense Act — that would provide exemptions for business owners who didn’t want to provide services for same-sex nuptials.
“Religious conscience is a first freedom. It’s a powerful part of our Bill of Rights. In a big, tolerant country, we should respect the rule of law, allow people in this country — I was opposed to the decision, but you can’t just say, ‘Well gays can’t get married now’ — but this woman, there should be some accommodation for her conscience, just as there should be for people that are florists that don’t want to participate in weddings, or bakers. A great country like us should have a way to provide accommodations for people so that we can solve this problem in the right way. This should be solved at the local level.”
After Tapper asked for more clarification of Bush’s stance, the former governor suggested that Davis’ duties could be carried out by deputy clerks willing to issue licenses, and that Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and the legislature could create some kind of work-around that would not require Davis or other clerks to “endorse” same-sex marriages.
“If she, based on conscience, can’t sign that marriage license, then there should be someone in her office to be able to do it,” said Bush. “And if the law needs to be changed in the state of Kentucky, which is what she’s advocating, then it should be changed.”
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