Does Pope Francis really support Kim Davis?

Pope Francis

Did Pope Francis really come out in support of Kim Davis and her refusal to grant marriage licenses to gay couples? It depends on how you look at his answer.

It is true, however, that Pope Francis and his church continue to oppose the right of gay people to get married, as well as to adopt children, but the pope did not explicitly address Kim Davis in his remarks.

“Do you … support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience … abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example when issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples?” a reporter asked.

Francis did not specifically mention Davis in his reply, noting, “I can’t have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection.” But he did offer a vigorous defense of conscientious objection as an important part of civil society.

“Yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right,” he said. “And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right … Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.’”

When the reporter, identified as Terry Moran from ABC News, followed up by asking about the specific issue of government officials, Francis replied: “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

Several media outlets jumped on Francis’ comments as tacit support for Davis. But while the pontiff’s answer made his support for conscientious objection clear, he was vague on what conscientious objection actually would mean in Davis’ situation. For example, Francis did not explain whether he believed an elected government official should be allowed to keep a job while refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The distinction is crucial to millions of religious Americans such as Mennonites, who are allowed to refuse military service and some taxes but, unlike Davis, willingly accept the consequences of doing so — including passing on certain jobs. Others take financial hits to accommodate their faith: Some pacifist Christians oppose paying federal taxes that support the military, and so intentionally make very little money to avoid paying the IRS.