Gwen Pope, county clerk of Decatur County, Tenn., and two of her employees quit their jobs rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples. When the news hit the airwaves, the Decatur County clerk’s office “had their phones ringing non-stop with congratulations for their action.” This was the only one of the 90-plus Tennessee counties to not issue marriage licenses.
I believe what Gwen Pope and her assistants did was to recuse themselves from participating in issuing marriage licenses. The word “recuse” is used most often in judicial proceedings where judges take themselves off of cases in which they have a conflict of interest. Recusal is the appropriate step to prevent a situation where their impartiality might reasonably be questioned. Often these are cases where the judge’s decision may be to the benefit of his or her family or friends. The decision maker would benefit from his or her own decision.
For all who refuse to issue licenses, cater weddings, dispense contraceptives, or perform their usual services because they claim their service, in a specific instance, is contrary to their religious convictions, Gwen Pope and her assistants have modeled the appropriate response by quitting their jobs. For those who choose to retain their jobs while refusing to provide services that conflict with their religious convictions and then accept congratulations and applause from family, friends, social circles, and congregations, it cannot be known whether they “took their stand” because of conviction or because of the anticipated applause. They are both the decision maker and the recipient of benefits from that decision. A clear conflict of interest.