Texas’ attorney general says county clerks can refuse to marry gay couples

Texas’ top law-enforcement official isn’t giving up.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has issued an opinion claiming that county clerks and their employees have the right to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In an opinion released on Sunday, Paxton claimed that “county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may provide accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.” The claim from the state’s top law-enforcement official comes after a landmark Supreme Court ruling Friday that established a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Paxton said shortly after Friday’s ruling that it “marks a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution.”

“But no court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman,” he said.

Paxton’s central claim is that deputy clerks and other employees may refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses because of religious objections protected under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Acts.

“And under the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, deputy clerks and other employees may have a claim that forcing the employee to issue same-sex marriage licenses over their religious objections is not the government’s least restrictive means of ensuring a marriage license is issued,” he argued, “particularly when available alternatives would not impose an undue burden on the individuals seeking a license.”

Paxton compared denying same-sex marriage licenses with a previous Texas ruling that “mandating the issuance of drugs violated pharmacists’ religious beliefs, and that refusing to issue the drugs and referring to another pharmacist was a sufficient practice.”

The Supreme Court’s historic decision has led to considerable resistance across the South, with two Alabama counties refusing to issue marriage licenses to any couples. “This decision is not based on me being a homophobic, people can do whatever they want in private,” Geneva County Probate Judge Fred Hamic, who intends to close the marriage-license bureau in his county, said. “It is based strictly on my Christian beliefs.”

Photo via Elvert Barnes/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0)

William Turton

William Turton

Once named one of Forbes’ 20 Under 20 and hired as a staff writer for the Daily Dot when he was still a senior in high school, William Turton is a rising tech reporter focusing on information security, hacking culture, and politics. Since leaving the Daily Dot in April 2016, his work has appeared on Gizmodo, the Outline, and Vice News Tonight on HBO.