Texas county clerks have been exercising plenty of free speech lately.
Some are angry at Gov. Greg Abbott and state officials who — quoting one clerk — “hung us all out to dry” with no advice or forms for issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
In a review of Hood County Clerk Katie Lang’s emails obtained through an information request, her comments to staff were strident: “We are not issuing them because I am instilling my religious liberty in this office.”
(She relented Tuesday and said her office will issue the licenses.)
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Most clerks on a statewide email list seemed surprised at the court decision and lack of help.
“We were the first people to be affected and the last ones to be contacted,” wrote Deborah Rushing from Yoakum County. “No one had our back.”
After Attorney General Ken Paxton — the state’s civil lawyer, not a primary legal authority on county matters — advised clerks to defend religious freedom but expect lawsuits, Ellis County Clerk Cindy Polley wrote: “Does it seem to anyone else the AG is putting it back on us?”
“HELP!” Brewster County Clerk Berta Rios Martinez wrote. “I just had my first gay couple come in for a marriage license and I ran them off!! … Did I do right? HELP!!!”
Shelby County Clerk Jennifer Fountain wrote her “vent” after a resident told her that issuing the licenses was “taking Shelby County to the fires of hell”:
“Why didn’t [Abbott] say ‘The state of Texas WILL NOT ISSUE same sex marriage licenses. If you want to sue, sue the State.’ Instead, he hung us all out to dry, threw us under the bus.”
Fountain went on: “I’ve issued marriage licenses to couples that I’ve had in court for beating each other up. I’ve issued to people that have lived together for 20 years. … Did I get ugly phone calls and blasted on [Facebook] for issuing them? No!!”
Lang’s other emails declined interviews and quoted Paxton. When she wrote about “instilling my religious liberty,” Hood County Commissioner Butch Barton wrote telling her to “hang in.”
On Friday, when the decision was announced, Lang had emailed her staff: “The U.S. Supreme Court has just voted to allow gay Marriages but we as County Clerks are to follow the Law as stated in Texas.”
Most clerks’ comments were more like Red River County Clerk Shawn Weemes’:
“I [am] so not looking forward to Monday.”
Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538