Bilerico Report

Time to get clerks out of the marriage license business for good

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office's refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, right, talks with David Moore following her office’s refusal to issue marriage licenses at the Rowan County Courthouse in Morehead, Ky., Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Kim Davis saga, it’s that it only takes one forgiven Christian (or hypocrite in more ecumenical language) to make a mockery of the Supreme Court marriage equality ruling.

Most times, county clerks are the keeper of the local records–in essence, the guardian of local government filing cabinets. But as we learned from Davis’s case, when it comes to marriage at least, clerks can take a routine matter and turn it into a public statement, at the expense of whoever happens to be in the way of their beliefs. And for this taxpayers are hit with her $80,000 salary plus benefits.

So here’s an idea: Let’s get clerks out of the business of issuing marriage licenses.

Ostensibly, the reason clerks issue marriage licenses is to verify that the couple getting married is who they say they are. The county also has a more-than-passing interest in collecting the license fee. But there’s no reason clerks have to be the arbiters of identity.

Think about virtually any other permit that you may require from your local government. In many municipalities, you can request the permit online and never have to show up in the clerk’s office. (Although let’s face it: Governments are not exactly AirBnb or Uber when it comes to technology.) The county can collect the fee through its website (and is happy to do so, since it reduces staff time).

And what about verifying identity? After all, people could otherwise obtain marriage licenses fraudulently, claiming to be who they aren’t (or of age when they’re not).

Consider this: you can pay for an airline ticket to anywhere in the world, without ever interacting with a person who questions your right to fly. The proof point comes at the time of the event itself: when it’s departure time. Then the TSA agent checks to make sure that you are, indeed, you.

So why isn’t it the same with marriage? Officiants are the last stop before the event itself. Checking ID is no more complicated for them than for county clerks, but a lot more relevant. In fact, it’s done already. Why the redundancy in the system?

The answer, of course, is that there is no good answer. Perhaps it’s a vestige of pre-feminism days, when protecting the virtue of single women was a moral cause for government. Perhaps it’s just because it adds to the self-importance of bureaucracy or the public worker unions. Perhaps the government hasn’t heard about this thing called the Internet. Whatever the reason, it makes no sense.

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