Same-sex marriages continues debate of legal vs. religious beliefs
A Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriages has officials questioning legal rights while standing up for their religious beliefs.
Several marriage licenses were issued at the Orange County Clerk’s Office as at least two counties in Texas have opted to refuse due to religious beliefs.
County clerks face legal perils if they fail to issue marriage licenses to eligible same-sex couples, stated the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas in letters sent to select county clerk offices in Texas Wednesday. The letters explain in detail the legal obligations of public officials following the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.
“Religious liberty is the birthright of every American,” said Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Texas. “But the first duty of public officials is to uphold the law, even if doing so conflicts with their personal religious convictions.”
In an opinion issued last Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton suggested that county clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages could avoid their duty and refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples. The ACLU of Texas’s letter warns clerks that doing so would constitute official misconduct and could lead to their removal from office and expose them to damages in civil litigation.
The ACLU of Texas sent the letters to clerks in counties where residents have reported recalcitrance over issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples such as Fayette and San Jacinto counties according top a press release.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick requested an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton on June 25, if a county clerk or her employees refuse to issue a same-sex marriage license if doing so would violate their sincerely held religious beliefs on marriage and if a justice of the peace or a judge refuse to conduct a same-sex wedding ceremony for the same reason.
“In the Attorney General’s opinion my office issued in response to Lt. Governor Patrick’s request for guidance, we find that although it fabricated a new constitutional right in 2015, the Supreme Court did not diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion that formed the first freedom in the Bill of Rights in 1791,” Paxton said. “This newly invented federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage should peaceably coexist alongside long-standing constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and speech. This opinion concludes that:
“County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.
“Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”
“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.”
Justice of the Peace 2 Derry Dunn has performed the first same-sex marriage ceremony on Tuesday to a female couple.
Currently Justice of the Peace 1 David Peck remains on medical leave and as such not available to perform marriage ceremonies.
Justice of the Peace 4 Rodney Price will no longer perform marriage ceremonies after the six he currently has scheduled at this time.
“For religious reasons, I will stop performing marriage ceremonies,” Price said in a telephone interview. “According to the Texas Family Code 2.202(a) judge of a municipal court can perform the ceremony. There are seven municipalities in the county, with each having two judges. That is 14 judges available to perform the ceremony.”
A call to Justice of the Peace Joy Dubose-Simonton was not returned.
Texas Family Code 2.202: ‘PERSONS AUTHORIZED TO CONDUCT CEREMONY. (a) The following persons are authorized to conduct a marriage ceremony:
(1) a licensed or ordained Christian minister or priest;
(2) a Jewish rabbi;
(3) a person who is an officer of a religious organization and who is authorized by the organization to conduct a marriage ceremony;
(4) a justice of the supreme court, judge of the court of criminal appeals, justice of the courts of appeals, judge of the district, county, and probate courts, judge of the county courts at law, judge of the courts of domestic relations, judge of the juvenile courts, retired justice or judge of those courts, justice of the peace, retired justice of the peace, judge of a municipal court, retired judge of a municipal court, or judge or magistrate of a federal court of this state; and
(5) a retired judge or magistrate of a federal court of this state.’
“It’s a harrowing day in America when unelected judges have the power to upend an institution that has been widely recognized as a virtuous force in society. This decision is just another example of Washington DC elites ruling against the will of the American people and usurping power from the states,” Chairman Tom Mechler, Republican Party of Texas said in a press release. “In light of the ruling, the fight for religious liberty continues, and the Republican Party of Texas will continue to work with our elected Republican leaders to protect the freedom of Texans to exercise their religious beliefs.”
U.S. Representative Brian Babin (TX-36) remains vocal on his belief of marriage is defines as between one man and one woman.
“As a strong supporter of traditional marriage and a firm believer in state sovereignty, I am deeply disappointed that five members of the U.S. Supreme Court have over-ruled tens of millions of Americans – including millions in the State of Texas – who have voted to enact state statutes and state Constitutional amendments to define marriage as between one man and one woman,” Babin said in a press release. “Congress should take immediate action to restore each state’s ability to determine their own marriage laws, instead of allowing a federal court to decide such an important issue. We must also take action to protect individuals and institutions with deeply held religious convictions on marriage to ensure that they do not face discrimination because of their convictions.”
“Traditional marriage has been under assault as courts and some state legislatures have sought to both redefine marriage as something other than between one man and one woman and to penalize and discriminate against those who have religious and conscience convictions against the redefinition of marriage,” Babin said. “This Court decision sets the government on a collision course with the religious freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution. As a strong and unwavering advocate for protecting the traditional definition of marriage, I have cosponsored the following legislation and will continue to advocate for bringing this legislation before Congress for a vote.”
• Protecting the Rights of those with Religious Convictions Against Coercion by the Government – Original cosponsor of H.R. 2802 to protect churches, Christian schools and colleges, and business-owners from being coerced by the government to act against their religious conviction in regards to acceptance of same-sex marriage.
• Defining Marriage in the United States as Only Between One Man and One Woman Cosponsor of H.J. Res 32 the Marriage Protection Constitutional Amendment.
• Protecting the Rights of States to Define Traditional Marriage – Cosponsor of H.R. 825 the State Defense of Marriage Act.
• Stripping Federal Courts of Jurisdiction to Hear Cases Related to Marriage – Original cosponsor of H.R. 1968 Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015.