Civil Disobedience

Supreme CourtAs a result of the Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage, those most frequently calling for law and order now bluster about “civil disobedience.” When the law provides a broader definition of Constitutional Rights, the rights of individuals in a free society, the elite believe they can encourage “civil disobedience.”  Even among elected or commissioned officers of the state the elite want these officers to question the law and to exercise “civil disobedience.” Of course, the elite expect no repudiation. Nonetheless, Officers of the state are required to obey the law without question. In other words, they have no option to exercise “civil disobedience.”

Constitution of the United States of America

There is no statement in the U.S. Constitution declaring this country to be a “Christian” nation.

The word “civil” is the operative adjective.  The word relates to “civilians” or “lay people.” Civilians are those who are not sworn to carry out the law or enforce the law or give allegiance to a higher authority. Altogether, I served 26 years in military service both on active duty and in the reserves. When I enlisted, I swore allegiance to the country. In that oath, I swore to defend the Constitution and to obey the lawful orders given me by the President, and all those in authority over me. Upsetting times and conditions often angered me. However, if I chose to exercise “civil disobedience,” I would have found I had no right to disobedience of any kind. In taking the oath, I had only two options if I disagreed with an order or assignment. First, face charges in courts-martial, or quietly continue my duties until my contract with the Government had been satisfied. Then I would be a civilian and could be civilly disobedient.

Thus, the other use of the word civil is polite or courteous. In being disobedient, always say, “please.” Alternatively you might say, “Thank you.” One way to be civilly disobedient is to be passive aggressive. Such behavior is a pervasive pattern of negativistic attitudes and passive resistance to demands for adequate performance in social and occupational situations.[1] Therefore, to exercise “civil disobedience” one may also be passive-aggressive.

The person elected to represent me in the state house from the representative district in which I live published and article on-line and in the local newspaper expressing dismay over the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. In this article, he called for “civil disobedience.”

Of course, as a civilian, one not expected to enforce the law, I can be civilly disobedient or even passive-aggressive. However, if I were elected to be the county clerk, or the recorder of deeds, or some other official of the state (or county or city), I have no right to civil disobedience. I must enforce and obey the law. A Supreme Court decision has the force of law and is the “law of the land.” The representative of my district, therefore, has no right to call on legally seated officers of the law to disobey the law.

As an ordained Minister of the Gospel, I have the license to hear a couple exchange vows of matrimony and declare them legally married. Then I must sign appropriate documents to report to the properly elected authority the couple exchanged vows of fidelity. My sanction to hear vows and declare a couple married comes only by law and custom, not through popular election. Nevertheless, I have no obligation to hear vows or to declare a couple married. I can refuse a couple on several grounds none of which concerns the sameness of their gender.

Episcopal Clergy, which I am one, may decide not to officiate at a wedding. That decision may be on the grounds that the couple is not suitable for marriage; that is, one of the members of the couple is under duress to marry. For me, other reasons for not officiating include neglection of baptism–there is no religious commitment. I may not wish to officiate because the couple is not active in the life of a parish, or they have been divorced, and the conditions of a previous marriage have not been settled.

The upshot of the matter is this; I can refuse to take part in a same gender marriage without fear of legal retribution. I am, in the law, a civilian and, therefore, civil disobedience is not objectional.

The state representative is not a civilian. A county clerk is not a civilian. Magistrates are not civilians. They cannot decide on their own which laws to enforce and which to ignore. Even if their religious beliefs are offended, they must obey the law. Those very people would demand the same of me in some other case of law.

Never being asked to officiate at a same-gender marriage, I am not certain what my reaction would be. At my age, it seems Wedding Picture. jpgdifficult to make adjustments in the social culture and the religious doctrines I have developed and lived in for eight decades. I have no reason, religiously or ethically, to deny a request to officiate. My only guidance is to do the “charitable thing.” The exercise of unconditional love is the Christian mandate, not civil disobedience to prevents people from sharing their love and emotional connections.


[1] American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association. pp. 733–734.

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