In Backing Kim Davis, Republican Candidates Betray the Rule of Law

This Thursday, Aug. 3, 2015 photo made available by the Carter County Detention Center shows Kim Davis. The Rowan County, Ky.
This Thursday, Aug. 3, 2015 photo made available by the Carter County Detention Center shows Kim Davis. The Rowan County, Ky. clerk went to jail Thursday for refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, but five of her deputies agreed to comply with the law, ending a two-month standoff. (Carter County Detention Center via AP)

"We must ... never surrender to judicial tyranny." -- Mike Huckabee
"it's absurd to put someone in jail for exercising their religious liberty." -- Rand Paul
"Today, judicial lawlessness crossed into judicial tyranny." -- Ted Cruz

Kim Davis may be deluded, shrewd or both. Whatever her motives, the thrice-divorced upholder of godly marriage is small beer. The real trouble is brewing in the Republican presidential field.

You can say a lot of dumb things in a political campaign. You can misspell "potato." You can (almost) claim to see Russia from your front porch. You can even say that if your daughter weren't your daughter you might date her -- I guess. Ugh. But you cannot reject the rule of law.

To become president, you must, if duly elected, take the oath of office. It closes with these words: "to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Credit: Marc Nozell, Creative Commons

Ted Cruz doesn't get to decide when the judiciary can be ignored. Mike Huckabee has no right to decide that religious liberty trumps the civil duties of an elected official. I have no say in what the Constitution means, and neither do you. If we did, there could be no rule of law.

Every American has the right to interpret the Bible or any other scripture as they please. But they cannot claim their interpretation relieves them of the duty to obey the law -- especially if they hold elected office. The very fact that people interpret Scripture differently proves the point: there must be a single arbiter of what the civil law means. The Constitution provides one: It is the Supreme Court. I don't like all its decisions (Citizens United comes to mind), but to be an American I have to live by them -- and so do presidents and presidential candidates.

Ms. Davis has a job to do. It is a government job, one that she was elected to. If it violates her religious principles, she has the right to resign. But she doesn't even have to do that: she was offered the opportunity to simply let others do the job she refuses to do. Instead, she chose jail.

Look, I understand what the GOP candidates are up against. The party of the 1 percent has to attract votes from at least 51 percent. The only way its candidates can do that is to woo frightened, misinformed, white Christians. It's one thing to do this by pretending that Obama's a tyrant or that immigrants are driving up crime.

But to make a martyr of Kim Davis is more than ridiculous. It is to stoke the fires of anarchy.