Texas county clerks with “sincerely held” religious objections may now delegate the task of issuing same-sex marriage licenses to other officials. According to state Senator Brian Birdwell, Texas Senate Bill 522 institutes a “statutory balance between the religious liberties of marriage-certifying officials and the rights of all couples to marry,” thereby creating an effective middle ground for the contrasting civil liberties in question.
SB 522 provides that county clerks may lend licensing authority to a “certifying official,” allowing them to produce a marriage license in their place. The bill requires that the concerned county clerk must notify the commissioners court of “sincerely held religious beliefs” that may go against their function and office.
These substitute officials may include an available judge, deputy clerk, or magistrate who is willing and able to certify the marriage license application, administer the oath, as well as the actual issuance of the marriage license.
Likewise, the bill prohibits action against officials who recuse themselves from their functions, stating that, “a civil cause of action may not be brought against the person based on the person’s refusal to conduct the marriage ceremony.” This provision effectively protects officials from administrative and civil penalties for refusing to administer these marriage licenses.
To prevent the possibility of same-sex couples facing additional obstacles after a state official delegates the task of issuing a marriage license, State Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), amended the bill: “A commissioners court of a county in which the clerk has made a notification under Subsection (a) shall ensure that all eligible persons applying for a marriage license are given equal access to the process and are not subject to undue burden due to the county clerk’s refusal to certify the application for a marriage license, administer the oath, and issue the license.”
The amendment comes in response to the actions of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who defied the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. In an advisory released to county clerks and judges, Paxton suggested that they may refuse to issue same-gender union licenses on the grounds of religious freedom, which in effect, places a burden on gender-deviant couples looking to get married.
The State Bar of Texas has made no disciplinary action on Attorney Paxton in spite of the ethics complaint filed against him by over 200 attorneys.
The seemingly tolerant move was not met with resounding applause from gender equality advocates, however.
Equality Texas, an Austin-based nonprofit supporting equal gender rights, asserts that the bill authorizes employees in public office to discriminate based on religious convictions, ultimately permitting them to cite religion as a basis for further discrimination.
Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller believes that the bill not only condones discrimination against same-gender couples but also “against virtually any Texan,” including previously divorced as well as interfaith couples.
For more information don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with family law attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to learn more about how we can help you.