Is Civil Disobedience an Option?

New York town clerk has reported that she wants to refuse to sign licenses for gay marriages but her position of employment currently falls outside legal protections, and so may force her to go against her faith and conscience to approve licenses.

This exemplifies a dilemma faced by Christians all the time: What do we do when something conflicts with our faith?

The Bible is clear, we are to be subject to the governing authorities.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.  Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.  For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.  Therefore one must be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.  (Romans 13:1-5)

Now here’s the problem: While the law provides provisions for religious organizations to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, government employees do not enjoy the same protections.

A number of provisions to protect religious communities from acting against their conscience have been addressed in the gay marriage bill in New York. That bill highlights several religious liberty concerns. However, it seemingly ignores other religious conflicts.

Churches and religious organizations are exempt from having their properties used for purposes that conflict with their religious beliefs with regards to marriage. They have the right to refuse to marry same-sex couples, according to statements from the New York Alliance Defense Fund.

Yet, the bill states public officials, caterers, photographers and others do not have that right.

That leaves her with three options:

  1. Sign the licenses;
  2. Quit her job; or,
  3. Refuse to sign the licenses (civil disobedience).
All of these options have consequences, but of the three, option three presents the most risk, mainly because the consequence of the other two are knowns; the consequences for the third option are not.  She could, theoretically, be fired for refusing to sign the licenses.  If she tried to get another job, this would follow her.  She could be moved to another department.  Or, she might get a warning by her supervisor.  We just don’t know.  But, as with all cases of civil disobedience, she has to accept the consequences of her actions.

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