Uncivil rules don’t merit obedience

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Several years ago I read of a woman who went to a pharmacy and needed to buy some form of birth control. However, the pharmacist would not fill the order, claiming it was against his religious convictions.

Several hours ago I read of two men in North Carolina who were refused a marriage license. The magistrate reportedly made a similar defense, stating that his religious beliefs would not condone it.

For the first instance, I did a little online research hoping the specific story would appear to provide details. Instead, I saw that there hasn’t been just one case, but many. If the stories can be believed, there’s evidently more than one pharmacist in this country who thinks he or she can refuse to stock or sell birth control to women and men.

The second example is also making the rounds on the Internet, and it will be interesting to see if other magistrates, court clerks and what-have-you refuse to do their jobs based on these so-called religious convictions. Also noteworthy will be whether any will either resign or even be fired.

You could argue that the men were practicing civil disobedience, and I will grant you that much.

I would also argue they were only using religion as a shield for their bigotry.

But what about Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s past refusal to defend the state’s former ban against same-sex marriages? That stance was even sanctioned by then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Earlier this year he reportedly told state attorneys general they don’t have to defend such prohibitions if they believe them to be unconstitutional.

As I see it, that’s not disguised bigotry, but true civil disobedience. Herring, for example, went on record that he was willing to defy a state law. It was a law that unapologetically discriminated against Virginians from experiencing and enjoying the same rights and privileges as other citizens of our Commonwealth. It was a law that should never have been proposed, much less passed by the General Assembly.

Whether coming from a church or a state or a federal government, when laws are made that treat people as second- or third-class citizens, they’re just plain wrong.

No amount of so-called religious conviction or patriotism could convince me otherwise.

STEPHEN H. COWLES is the staff writer for The Tidewater News. He can be contacted at stephen.cowles@tidewaternews.com or by calling 562-3187.