They have more in common than either would expect: President Barack Obama and those Kentucky clerks who refuse to issue licenses for same-sex marriages. In refusing to do their jobs (Obama with respect to immigration), both are behaving lawlessly. Both are violating the oaths they took.
Oddly, the people who applaud Obama's refusal to enforce our immigration laws are irate at the county clerks who refuse to issue the marriage licenses to gays. However, a refusal to do one's duty as an elected official is lawless, regardless of the issue or reason. Maybe the clerks should change their messaging and declare their offices "sanctuaries."
I am slightly more sympathetic to the county clerks; the Supreme Court's pronouncement of a new constitutional right to gay marriage fundamentally changed the nature of their duties. Arguably some of these clerks might not have run for their position had they known that they would be compelled to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. But the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodgespercolated for years. Those who were surprised at the outcome certainly knew that it was a possibility.
Going forward, however, no candidate for county clerk can claim unfair surprise. Like it or not, gay marriage is now the law of the land. Those who feel it would violate their conscience to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple should not seek the office.
In refusing to perform their duty but accepting their salary, the recalcitrant clerks are exercising their religious beliefs on the cheap and easy. The more honorable course would be to resign.
Unlike the clerks, Obama's refusal to enforce our nation's immigration laws through deportations is not based on his religious convictions. He just thinks he's smarter and knows better. He therefore uses executive orders to ignore those laws of which he disapproves. But like the clerks, Obama justifies his inaction as the right thing to do; he follows his moral compass rather than the laws he swore to uphold.
The clerks and Obama both serve in the executive branch of government, albeit at very different levels. Officials in the executive branch cannot make law, like the legislature, or interpret law, like the judiciary; their job is to execute the laws the other branches have made — as in apply the law, enforce it, carry it out. If they do not like the law and want to change it, they are in the wrong branch.
Obama's dereliction of duty — and the example it sets — has graver consequences than that of the clerks. No one has died as a result of inaction by the clerks. The Supreme Court has decreed that gay marriage is a constitutional right, and violation of a constitutional right is a serious matter. But it is not the same as seeing your child shot by an illegal alien and holding her while she dies, as happened in the "sanctuary city" of San Francisco recently.
Francisco Sanchez, the man who confessed to murdering Katie Steinle on the San Francisco pier earlier this month, has an extensive criminal history — seven felonies — and had been deported to Mexico five times. Sanctuary cities like San Francisco attract people like Sanchez because they know that it's city policy to shelter illegal immigrants from deportation; Sanchez admitted as much to a reporter.
San Francisco's sheriff and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are blaming each other for Sanchez being free to commit a murder. That finger pointing misses the larger truth. The proliferation of sanctuary cities is the logical extension of the Obama administration's refusal to enforce the immigration laws: the fish rots from the head.
There are now 200 sanctuary cities. The rationale for the policy is to prevent families from being torn apart; children born to illegal immigrants on American soil are U.S. citizens automatically, but their parents are not. And to be sure, Sanchez is by no means representative of all illegal immigrants. The unintended consequence of that compassionate impulse to provide sanctuary from deportation is that Katie Steinle's family has been torn apart.
Sanctuary cities, Obama's non-enforcement, and the rogue county clerks, each make a mockery of the notion of the "law-abiding citizen." In days of yore, abiding by the law was something a citizen just did, and expected others to do or else face punishment. It was part of being a responsible adult, a norm parents taught children. The corollary was that public officials were expected to honor their oaths and enforce the law, all the laws.
When did it become respectable to obey and enforce only the laws one likes? Perhaps the most devastating legacy of Obama will be this trickle-down lawlessness.