Throwback Thursday: When Steve King said counties denying marriage licenses was "no solution"

I suppose it was inevitable that Representative Steve King would insert himself into the national debate over a Kentucky county clerk using her religious beliefs as an excuse not to do her job. King’s immediate reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was to urge states to “just abolish civil marriage, let’s go back to holy matrimony the way it began.” A couple of weeks later, he introduced a Congressional resolution saying states “may refuse to be bound by the holding in Obergefell v. Hodges” and “are not required to license same-sex marriage or recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.”

This past weekend, King lit up Twitter by saying of the Rowan County clerk who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses,

In 1963, we should not have honored SCOTUS decision to creat a wall of separation between prayer & school. Kim Davis for Rosa Parks Award.

On Tuesday, King doubled down in an interview with KSCJ radio in Sioux City: “Cheers for [Mike] Huckabee and [Ted] Cruz, whoever else has stepped up to defend Kim Davis. I think she deserves the Rosa Parks Award.”

Would you believe there was a time when King said calling for county officials to refuse to abide by a Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality was “no solution” in the battle to “protect marriage”?

Let’s get an obvious point out of the way: comparing Kim Davis to Rosa Parks is absurd. As Georgia-based activist Curtis F put it,

the only similarity that Rosa Parks shares with Kim Davis is that they both landed in jail.

Davis, though, ended up there because she was trying to restrict people from having the same rights that she enjoys. Actually, the same rights she’s enjoyed on numerous occasions since she’s been married four times. Parks, on the other hand, ended up in jail for wanting the same rights enjoyed by others. Davis isn’t Rosa Parks, she’s the hateful, bigoted bus driver who asked her to move.

Or in the words of the Des Moines Register’s editorial board,

Parks was arrested for protesting a Montgomery, Alabama, law that discriminated against African-Americans on public transportation.

Davis went to jail because she refused to enforce a law that law violates her religious belief that same-sex marriage is sinful. Davis was ordered to perform her job as county clerk by issuing marriage licenses to qualified applicants. Among those qualified, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, are same-sex couples.

Davis’ choice was to perform her job or resign. Instead, she chose to stop issuing all marriage licenses, thus denying the rights of all marriageable couples in Rowan County. That was not civil disobedience, it was a violation of the oath she swore as a public official to uphold the Constitution.

Rosa Parks performed an act of civil disobedience to expand the rights of all black Americans, not to remove constitutional rights of whites. In contrast, [what] Davis performed was an act of official misconduct to deny the rights of all marriageable citizens of Rowan County.

For now, I’m interested in Steve King’s conversion to the idea that county officials denying marriage licenses is a worthy weapon against what he views as unjust court rulings.

Bleeding Heartland closely followed Republican reaction to the Iowa Supreme Court’s April 2009 Varnum v Brien decision. Beyond the consensus view that the state legislature should pass a constitutional amendment restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples, social conservatives were divided on how best to proceed.

King advocated new residency requirements “so that Iowa does not become the gay marriage Mecca due to the Supreme Court’s latest experiment in social engineering.” He also recorded anti-gay marriage robocalls for the National Organization of Marriage (see here and here).

Bob Vander Plaats, who was embarking on his third gubernatorial campaign, promised that if elected, “on my first day of office I will issue an executive order that puts a stay on same-sex marriages until the people of Iowa vote, and when we vote we can affirm and amend the Constitution.”

Way out there activist Bill Salier, best known for challenging Greg Ganske in the 2002 GOP primary for U.S. Senate, wanted state lawmakers to “face down the court” and insist that Iowa’s Defense of Marriage Act should remain part of state code.

Chuck Hurley’s Iowa Family Policy Center, aided by State Senator Merlin Bartz, circulated petitions seeking to pressure county recorders not to issue marriage licenses. (I’m so grateful that none of them took the bait.)

King published a guest editorial in the Des Moines Register on May 26, 2009. His main point was to rant against the “lawless” Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling and call for a constitutional amendment on marriage. But he also took on fellow self-styled marriage defenders:

Some have called for the county recorders to refuse to abide by the decision. Others have called for the governor to issue an executive order in an attempt to overrule the court. Some called upon the Legislature to pass a new statute. Others argue that the Defense of Marriage Act is still on the books and should prevail over the Supreme Court’s decision. All of these arguments have the same flaw: They contain no end game, no solution, and no resolution, while denying judicial review itself. Like a dog chasing its tail, all of these proposals end up before the same court again, producing likely the same result we have today.

The courts have the power to interpret the law to decide cases. Since 1803, in the case of Marbury v. Madison, the judicial branch has exercised the power of judicial review. But constitutionally there exists the right and the duty of the people to overrule the will of the court.

The best way to put a check on this power grab by the judicial branch is to amend the Iowa Constitution to protect marriage from the courts.

Not being a mind-reader, I can only speculate as to why King now wants state governments to ignore a Supreme Court ruling and applauds a county official who took the law into her own hands. My best guess is that with public opinion moving dramatically in favor of same-sex marriage rights, King no longer views a constitutional amendment (either at the state or federal level) as a viable option.

Feel free to share your own theories in this thread.

P.S.- The Iowa legislature’s leading voice for telling county recorders not to do their jobs in 2009 now works for King. Bartz accepted the offer to run the fourth Congressional district office in Mason City shortly after losing his 2012 re-election campaign.

About the Author(s)