Texas Clerk Folds on|Gay Marriage Licenses

     GRANBURY, Texas (CN) – Emboldened by the Texas attorney general, a North Texas county clerk cited her religion in refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses for several days, before doing an about-face Tuesday night.
     Hood County Clerk Katie Lang was among a handful of Texas officials who initially refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on Friday.
     The 5-4 ruling struck down state bans on same-sex marriage and made it legal nationwide.
     Hood County is southwest of Tarrant and Dallas counties. Its county seat, Granbury, is about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
     Lang said Tuesday morning that she would not comply with the court’s ruling because of her “religious convictions.”
     She cited a non-binding opinion issued Sunday by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who urged county clerks and judges to not issue licenses or perform same-sex marriages if they have personal religious objections , but warned they could face lawsuits if they did so.
     “In the attorney general’s opinion, Ken Paxton, issued in response to Lt. Governor [Dan] 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,” Lang said in a statement. “This newly invented federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage should peaceably coexist alongside longstanding constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and speech.”
     Lang told The Dallas Morning News she would refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses until a court tells her she is breaking the law.
     By Tuesday night, however, Lang had changed her tune. She said that other employees in her office – not Lang – would issue same-sex marriage licenses.
     “Because some have misreported and misconstrued my prior statements, I want to make clear that the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will comply with the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States,” Lang said. “I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. That has not changed since last Friday.”
     Lang cited Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell, stating, “It must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”
     There had been no same-sex marriage applicants in Hood County as of Monday, according to Lang’s office.
     “The religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” Lang said. “Nonetheless, in addition to the county clerk offices in the several surrounding counties, as soon as the appropriate forms have been printed and supplied to my office, the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will have staff available and ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses.”
     An East Texas gay couple sued Smith County on Monday for refusing to issue a same-sex marriage license. They called Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips’ refusal not just illegal, but “mean-spirited and petty,” and intended to “humiliate and shame” them. Tyler is the seat of Smith County, about 95 miles east of Dallas.
     In his 6-page opinion letter, Paxton said the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act requires governments to use the least restrictive means to further a compelling government interest when “substantially burdening” a person’s religious rights.
     “The strength of any such claims depends on the particular facts of each case,” he wrote. “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.”

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