The media has saturated our lives with stories of a government official not issuing marriage licenses because of opposition to same sex relationships.
Now, normally I wouldn’t speak publicly about something which I find so malicious, ignorant, and unethical. As I’ve said on my Facebook page, I do not entertain a troll’s existence. I try to apply the same attitude to these types of situations – I do not want to contribute to providing a virulent person a broader public stage to espouse her/his vitriol. However, this lack of attention doesn’t mean that I’m not aware, that I’m not observing (and reading) all sides of an issue (yes, including even the most hateful of support).
I wanted to post on my blog because George Takei’s most recent op-ed on this issue impacted me on a quite unexpected level. Surprisingly, I was reminded of my horrible boss at Amazon. As a former HR professional, I know that when a manager speaks in the performance of her/his job, what s/he says represents the company. If a manager says it, it’s as if the company is speaking. When my boss responded to my identifying myself as someone with a disability with “the business comes first,” she was walking a fine legal line. In the eyes of the law, because she was speaking in the performance of her job, she was speaking on behalf of Amazon. I say this was a fine legal line because she just made the statement – if she would have done something in support of this statement (behavior), she would have been breaking the law in the form of disability discrimination. I know all of this clearly because I sought counsel from a disability lawyer when these issues were happening. He interpreted the federal and state laws to me in great detail on this issue.
Now, how does this remind me of the marriage license situation? Agency. When my boss was speaking, she was speaking as an agent of the company. When this clerk speaks, within the role of her job, she is an agent of the government. In that capacity, what she says is what the government says. Privately, she can hold any belief she wants. Regardless, in the performance of her job she is representing the State. While “on duty” in the act of her government role, she not only expressed an opinion opposing the State’s stance (SCOTUS has already interpreted the marriage issue in relation to the Constitution), she also acted on those beliefs by not issuing marriage licenses (behavior = discrimination). THIS is how her actions were a breach of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. Through her speech and actions in the performance of her government job, she (the State) was pronouncing a particular brand of Christianity as not only preferred, but State sanctioned (official approval of a religion).
For my degree, my minor studies were in Political Science. In discussing Constitutional Law, one statement has always stuck with me – “one person’s rights END where another person’s rights begin.” You’re Constitutional rights are not infinite; they do NOT extend to other people. You can believe whatever you want, but that doesn’t mean that you can act to impose those beliefs on others because THAT would be a violation of others’ rights.
It’s a balance – the trade off for enjoying freedom is respecting the same right in all, even when those whose beliefs are polar opposites. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means…to all of us.