Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an order telling local government officials that they can refuse to issue marriage licenses if they have a religious objection to doing so despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday. Welcome to the next legal battle in the war for equality.
County clerks in Texas who object to gay marriage can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite last week’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring states to allow same-sex marriage, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said on Sunday…
Paxton said in a statement that hundreds of public officials in Texas were seeking guidance on how to implement what he called a lawless and flawed decision by an “activist” court.
The state’s attorney general said that while the Supreme Court justices had “fabricated” a new constitutional right, they did not diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.
“County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” Paxton wrote, adding that the strength of any such claim would depend on the 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,” Paxton wrote…
“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,” Paxton wrote.
So if a clerk decides that they don’t think women should drive because of their religious beliefs, Paxton will provide free representation for them too, right? And if a clerk objects to interracial marriage and refuses to issue a license to an interracial couple, same deal, right? After all, that would be “defending their religious beliefs,” right? Or does this position apply only to gay couples for some unstated reason?
This is going to be the next big phase of the struggle for marriage equality. North Carolina has already passed a law allowing clerks to refuse to do the same thing and other states are considering it. Lawsuits will inevitably follow and the bigots are not going to win them. As a government employee on the job, they are the government and that means they don’t get to pick and choose which legal services will be offered to which residents.
I suspect Paxton knows this, but he doesn’t care. He’s aiming for higher office and this is the perfect way to pander to those he needs to pander to in order to run for higher office later.