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'I don't' isn't the answer

Public employees shouldn't be allowed to opt out of performing same-sex marriages.

May 28, 2008

Some parts of the workday just aren't as agreeable as others. That, as the saying goes, is why they call it work. So, although we recognize that county clerks throughout California have a complicated job ahead gearing up for same-sex marriages -- such as, what should the license call what used to be "husband and wife"? -- one thing that should be simple and clear is that, beginning June 16, public employees who perform marriage ceremonies have a legal obligation to do so for gay and lesbian couples, no matter how they feel about it.

In response to a May 15 decision by the California Supreme Court declaring the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, officials in at least one county — San Diego -- are planning to allow employees with moral or religious objections to the marriages to be excused from presiding over them. That's plainly improper in its acceptance of bigotry as a basis for discretion by public employees. Some workers may have problems with interracial marriage too, but no one is suggesting that they be allowed to opt out of the duty to perform those constitutionally protected unions.

Government employees are paid to do their jobs. If the job involves performing marriages, that's what they do, regardless of personal sentiment. If they can't handle their jobs, they're free to apply for new ones elsewhere.

Religious groups and clergy are of course entitled to follow their own consciences in these matters. Public employees are not, and offering them the option to perform only the parts of their job that they find acceptable goes against the basic reasoning in the court's decision, which found that marriage between two adults can no more be denied based on sexual orientation than on the grounds of religion, age or ethnicity.

After sending initially confusing messages on the matter, Los Angeles County has rightly decided that both paid and volunteer marriage commissioners will be required to perform ceremonies for all who walk in the door.

Gay and lesbian couples should not be subjected to embarrassing scenes in which county workers scurry around looking for someone willing to declare them married. Those who do the public's business have every right to oppose and condemn same-sex marriage -- on their days off.

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