I always tell my students that ethics is one of the most vibrant and challenging areas of philosophy, because it asks how moral principles apply to our everyday world–and while morality is objective and eternal, our world changes with all the speed and unpredictability of an overflowing stream. As technology, science, and politics toss up new challenges, we have to figure out the right course of action in situations which previous generations might never have encountered. For example, what should a Christian elected official do when a constitutional right to same-sex marriage is suddenly “discovered” and enforced?
Yes, this is another article about (or at least inspired by) Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who was imprisoned for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She was released from jail last week and announced on Monday that she would not block her deputy clerks from issuing the licenses, but even though her chapter of this story seems to be closing, her courageous stand raised issues for all of us to consider. I’m coming to the story late because, frankly, I wanted to take time to think about it. Morality doesn’t change, but human situations do, and Mrs. Davis’ particular flavor of moral dilemma has literally never existed before in history. I’m not just talking about same-sex marriage itself, but about the sudden imposition of same-sex marriage on a nation which is still unsure on the question and in which professing Christians hold elected offices which give them some degree of influence over marriage licenses. It is a unique moment, and one which calls for serious and prayerful thought about how those elected officials should respond.