AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Many county clerks across Texas have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite instructions from the state attorney general that they could refuse to do so if it violates their religious beliefs. And the ones holding out say they are doing so mostly for logistic – not religious – reasons.
Counties in more liberal areas of the fiercely conservative state began sanctioning same-sex weddings within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Friday legalizing gay marriage nationwide and wiping out a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution banning it.
Some counties originally reported holding off to wait for updated paperwork or further state instructions. But many of those announced they would issue gay marriage licenses beginning Monday.
That about-face comes despite a weekend opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who wrote that “county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms,” including objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. He suggested that officials who defy the Supreme Court order could face fines or lawsuits – but said private attorneys were ready to defend them, and even do so for free.
Not many county officials appeared ready to take Paxton up on that offer, however. The Associated Press polled a dozen counties, mostly in GOP-dominated West Texas, and found many issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas also set up a statewide hotline and asked gay couples to call if they were denied marriage licenses. Once statewide vital statistics forms had been modified in conjunction with the legalization of same-sex marriages, the group said it had received no major complaints, according to Rebecca Robertson, its legal and policy director.
Those areas not issuing gay marriage licenses included Lubbock County and nearby Lamb County, where spokeswomen said they are waiting for further legal clarification.
Officials in Floyd County, northeast of Lubbock, and Randall County, which covers part of Amarillo, say they weren’t issuing licenses Monday because their computer systems and paperwork needed to be updated with same-sex language. Floyd County Clerk Ginger Morgan said she’s waiting for the state health department to forward updated forms.
Jim Obergefell of Ohio, a named plaintiff in Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, wore an American flag lapel pin as he participated in a rally Monday at the Texas Capitol. He said was “disgusted” by Paxton’s opinion.
“I’m disappointed, disheartened and it angers me that they are creating a situation that doesn’t exist by saying that this ruling forces any religious person to go against their beliefs,” Obergefell said.
The ACLU’s Robinson said freedom of religion “has never meant, and does not mean, that government officials can use their personal religious beliefs as an excuse not to follow the law.”
“Government officials take an oath to uphold the Constitution, to follow the law on an equal basis,” she said “and we expect absolutely no less from county clerks, magistrates and justice of the peace across the state.”
Associated Press Writer David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.