JACKSBORO, Texas (CN) – A Texas state judge claimed Wednesday judges’ civil rights are violated by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct when they are disciplined for expressing views against same-sex marriage or homosexual conduct.
Jack County District Judge Brian Umphress sued the 13 members of the commission in federal court in Fort Worth for violation of First Amendment rights. He disputes the commission issuing a public warning against McLennon County Justice of the Peace Diane Hensley for refusing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies due to her Christian faith.
Umphress says the commission erroneously concluded her extra-judicial disapproval of same-sex marriages or homosexual conduct violates the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, that she cast “reasonable doubt” as to her impartiality.
Umphress says he “faithfully applies” the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same-sex marriage and impartially applies the law to every litigant before his court, but he also refuses to perform same-sex weddings while continuing to perform heterosexual marriages.
“Judge Umphress, however, is engaged in numerous extra-judicial activities that evidence disapproval of homosexual behavior, same-sex marriage, and the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell, and all of these activities are exposing him to discipline under the commission’s current interpretation of Canon 4A(1),” the 18-page complaint states.
“Judge Umphress, for example, is member and supporter of Christian Missions Church in Jacksboro, a Bible-believing church that adheres to longstanding Christian teaching that marriage exists only between one man and one woman, and that homosexual conduct of any sort is immoral and contrary to Holy Scripture.”
Umphress says these activities are no different than the extra-judicial activities Hensley was disciplined for. He further argues that in spite of the Obergefell ruling, Texas has not amended or repealed its marriage laws against same-sex marriage and that the Supreme Court “has no power to formally amend or revoke” state law or a constitutional provision.
“The court should therefore enter a declaratory judgment that nothing in Obergefell or the U.S. Constitution requires state-licensed officiants – either clergy or judges – to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, even if the officiant chooses to perform opposite-sex weddings,” the complaint states.
Umphress claims the commission’s discipline causes judges to question whether they can support charities like the Salvation Army or other Christian organizations that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
He plans to seek re-election in 2022 and intends to campaign as an opponent of same-sex marriage and the “living-constitutional mindset” that resulted in the Obergefell ruling.
The commission could not be reached by telephone for comment after office hours Wednesday. It consists of six judges appointed by the Supreme Court of Texas, two attorneys appointed by the State Bar of Texas and five citizen members appointed by the governor who are not attorneys or judges.
Judge Umphress is represented by Jonathan Mitchell in Austin and Davis Spiller in Jacksboro.
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