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Texas Judge Says No to Same-Sex Weddings

DALLAS (CN) - A Republican judge in Dallas County is facing criticism for refusing to perform same-sex marriages, citing his religious freedom under a controversial advisory opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Describing himself as a "devout Catholic," Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger said Wednesday that his "sincerely held religious belief" prevent him from being "forced to conduct anything but a traditional wedding" under Paxton's nonbinding opinion.

"Recently, I have been asked about my beliefs and stance on traditional marriage," Metzger wrote on Facebook. "I think it is important to point out that this is the law in Texas per Attorney General Ken Paxton's legal interpretation via opinion KG-0025: 'Justices of the peace retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections.'"

Paxton issued his opinion within days of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down state bans on same-sex marriage and made it legal nationwide, in June. Paxton did recommend to judges and county clerks that they can invoke their religious rights in refusing, but warned that they might be sued.

A former Texas Democratic Party official later filed an ethics complaint against Paxton claiming his opinion urges county officials to defy the Supreme Court.

Cece Cox with the LGBT advocacy group Resource Center in Dallas said Metzger's policy is not how equal policy works under the law.

"Of course people could go somewhere else to get their marriage license but they shouldn't have to do that," she told ABC affiliate WFAA. "If he chooses not to marry a gay couple, he'll be in violation of the law."

Retired state District Judge John Creuzot, a Democrat, said the policy is "not on solid legal footing" under state or federal law.

"If I do marriages, I either do none or all," Creuzot told WFAA. "It's a bad signal to be a judge, even if it is a justice of the peace, and then make an independent decision that you're going to follow the law for some folks and not for others."

Hood County Clerk Katie Lang made headlines when she invoked Paxton's opinion within days of the Obergefell ruling. She was quickly sued by a Granbury same-sex couple in Fort Worth Federal Court after she repeatedly refused to issue them a same-sex marriage license and "humiliated" them.

After Lang relented, Hood County officials settled the lawsuit by paying the couple's $44,000 legal bill.

Same-sex couples rejected by Metzler are urged to contact the attorneys in the Lang case, Austin Kaplan and Jan Soifer in Austin, The New Civil Rights Movement reported.

Dallas County Democratic Party chairwoman Carol Donovan blasted Metzger's announcement and demanded his resignation on Friday. She said he was failing to recognize the separation of church and state.

"By refusing to officiate same-sex marriages, Judge Bill Metzger is not only violating federal law, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, but he is also violating his Oath of Office," Donovan said in a statement.

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