Politics & Government

Hood County will issue same-sex marriage licenses, but clerk won’t

Hood County Clerk Katie Lang
Hood County Clerk Katie Lang

Katie Lang still won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses in Hood County, but she finally agreed to let other staffers issue them.

Lang, the county clerk there, initially insisted her office wouldn’t issue any — despite last week’s Supreme Court landmark ruling that the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states — because it goes against her religious beliefs.

But late Tuesday night, she posted a statement on the county clerk’s website saying while she would “personally refrain” from issuing the licenses, “the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will have staff available and ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses.”

This came a day after she insisted same-sex licenses wouldn’t be issued in Hood County, saying it’s “my religious liberty, my belief in traditional marriage,” she said. “Nobody has tried to get one, nobody has called about them … other than reporters.”

Lang’s decision came as Denton County’s clerk began to issue the licenses in spite of her belief that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. And Collin County began to issue the licenses as well, following the lead set last week by Tarrant and Dallas counties — and other counties across the state.

Officials in a few other local counties, including Wise and Johnson, said Monday they are still waiting on software companies to update the forms. Statewide, Bastrop, Buleson, Jackson and Ector counties were also still declining to issue licenses.

All this came in the wake of Texas’ Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton issuing a nonbinding legal opinion saying that officials can deny marriage licenses if they have religious objections.

“Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans,” he said in a statement.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, sent a letter Monday to the U.S. Attorney General’s office asking that officials there “intervene, if necessary, to ensure that Texas officials do not flout the Supreme Court’s ruling and blatantly discriminate against same sex couples.”

Paxton, in his Sunday opinion, did warn that any employee who does not issue a license to a same-sex couple could face lawsuits or fines. But he also said a number of lawyers are ready to defend — at no cost — any official who chooses to not grant same-sex marriage licenses.

Lang noted that fines and lawsuits “of course are a concern,” but she added that she didn’t think anyone would sue her.

According to her Tuesday night statement: “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. As Justice Kennedy stated, “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.”

Officials must comply

Paxton’s ruling came at the request of an opinion by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who praised the attorney general for affirming “that county clerks, judges and Justices of the Peace do in fact retain religious freedom to object.”

Political observers say they believe the issue is still in flux but the law is the law.

“Clearly, the Supremacy Clause requires states to comply with federal constitutional rulings,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at Texas Christian University. “And ultimately, public officials will have to comply.

“But since the Supreme Court consists of nine folks without an enforcement division, reactions to its rulings in terms of enforcement, are sometimes slow, especially when they change long time societal norms,” he said. “Ultimately, the national law will prevail.”

County clerks who choose to not issue the licenses because of their religious beliefs may soon find themselves in court, said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“County clerks who believe that allowing their office to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple is sufficiently in conflict with their religious convictions that they are unable to allow the license to be issued have two options,” he said. “The first is to refuse to issue the license and likely face a lawsuit that they will almost certainly lose, in addition to sanctions and/or fines. The second is to resign.”

The Plano-based conservative Liberty Institute is among those offering legal advice to government employees on this issue.

“When there is a question of conscience, Liberty Institute stands ready, willing, and able to come alongside government employees and defend their religious liberty,” said Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of the Liberty Institute, which describes itself as the biggest nonprofit legal group nationwide “dedicated solely to defending religious liberty in America.”

Around North Texas

On Monday, same sex marriage licenses continued to be issued in Tarrant and Dallas counties, as they were shortly after the Supreme Court ruling Friday.

Collin and Denton county officials began issuing licenses Monday, saying their forms or databases are now updated.

“Personally, same-sex marriage is in contradiction to my faith and belief that marriage is between one man and one woman,” Denton County Clerk Juli Luke said in a statement. “However, first and foremost, I took an oath on my family Bible to uphold the law, and as an elected public official, my personal belief cannot prevent me from issuing the licenses as required.”

Wise County Clerk officials said they were waiting for the software company to update the forms. And Johnson County Clerk Becky Ivey said workers “have sent the updated application form to our software vender and are waiting on a response as to when they system will be updated.

Parker County Clerk Jeane Brunson sent out a statement saying that the vendor is working to update the program to create gender neutral marriage applications and hopes to have it updated no later than Thursday.

“As an elected official, I have taken an oath to execute the duties of the office, and that I will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States and of the State of Texas without subjecting those actions to my own personal values,” she said in the statement. “I believe you want nothing more from your elected County Clerk.”

As many as 23,209 same-sex couples — half of the estimated 46,401 same-sex couples in Texas — could exchange vows in the Lone Star State in the first three years it is legal, according to a recent report by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.

“There is always tension between national and state governments when a Supreme Court ruling goes against state law,” Riddlesperger said. “A clear majority … of Republicans oppose same sex marriage. And Christian conservatives see this as a moral issue.

“In cases like this, the best counsel is to allow passions to cool over a few days and weeks.”

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley

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