On the return flight to Rome after a six-day tour of the United States where Pope Francis pressed the United Nations for action on climate change, condemned sexual abuse by priests, and met with inmates at a Philadelphia correctional facility, he addressed a question today that has recently gripped the nation in controversy: Can the Kim Davises of the world refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses?
"I can't have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right,” the pontiff said, according to NBC News. “ … And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right."
Without naming Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who this month went to jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reporters traveling with the pontiff on the papal plane asked whether he generally supports the right of government officials to refuse to carry out their duties because of a moral objection to the task.
Pope Francis responded, “It is a human right, and if a government official is a human person, he has that right,” reported NBC.
In what is likely to become mantra for many US conservatives, for whom Ms. Davis has become a national hero, the pontiff said, “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right," reported Reuters.
Earlier this month, Ms. Davis, a county clerk in Rowan County, Ky., went to jail for five days because she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, despite a Supreme Court ruling in June that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Davis's name and moral defiance has dominated national news for weeks. It has even suffused the 2016 presidential election, helping Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee court social conservatives for his outspoken defense of Ms. Davis.
When Ms. Davis was arrested, Mr. Huckabee launched a “Free Kim Davis Now” petition on his campaign website, organized a splashy rally, and greeted her upon her release at the Carter County Detention Center on September 8.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz from Texas also latched onto the controversy, which to Christian conservatives is an emblem of government overreach and a liberal attack on traditional American values. He traveled to Kentucky for Ms. Davis’s release, having also launched a “Stand with Kim Davis,” campaign on his website.
On the day of her release, Senator Cruz wrote on his Facebook page, "Praise God that Kim Davis is being released.”
"It was an outrage that she was imprisoned for six days for living according to her Christian faith," he wrote.