Speed Reads

Gay marriage

Texas attorney general says county officials can refuse same-sex marriage licenses

On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said that the state's county clerks, justices of the peace, and judges don't have to comply with the Supreme Court's ruling that gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to civil marriage. His reason: the First Amendment. Several of Texas' largest counties started issuing same-sex licenses on Friday, but others declined, waiting on Paxton's directive, as he had requested on Thursday.

In his advisory opinion on Sunday [PDF], Paxton acknowledged that after the Supreme Court's ruling, "a federal district court for the Western District of Texas has now enjoined the state from enforcing Texas laws that define marriage as exclusively a union between one man and one woman." But, he added, "in recognizing a new constitutional right in 2015, the Supreme Court did not diminish, overrule, or call into question the rights of religious liberty that formed the first freedom in the Bill of Rights in 1791."

Paxton's religious-liberties argument wasn't unexpected. On Friday, the ACLU of Texas issued a preemptive rebuttal: "Religious liberty is a fundamental right protected by the First Amendment, but that doesn't mean that government officials can use their personal religious beliefs to avoid following the law regarding marriage."

On Sunday, Paxton noted that his legal opinion won't stop county and state employees from being sued, warning that the "strength" of any claimed religious exemption "depends on the particular facts of each case." But when the public employees are sued, he said, "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."