Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sunday told county clerks in the state that they can refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples if the clerk religiously objects to same-sex marriage.
Paxton, who issued a blistering statement on Friday condemning the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, initially said that the state would be following the ruling. But on Sunday, he issued an “opinion” to answer questions about implementing the law.
“Now hundreds of Texas public officials are seeking guidance on how to implement what amounts to a lawless decision by an activist Court while adhering both to their respective faiths and their responsibility to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution,” he said in the statement.
He noted that there is not “a court order in place in Texas to issue any particular license whatsoever – only the flawed direction by the U.S. Supreme Court on Constitutionality and applicable state laws.”
Paxton said that county clerks can “retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.” He also said that judges and justices of the peace can make similar claims if they religiously object to gay marriage.
He said that clerks who refuse to issue licenses may face lawsuits. But he said that “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.”
“Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans, but most immediately do anything we can to help our County Clerks and public officials who now are forced with defending their religious beliefs against the Court’s ruling,” Paxton said in the statement.
Couples who are unable to obtain marriage licenses will be able to ask U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to hold the clerk refusing to issue a license in contempt of court, according to the Dallas Morning News. Garcia has also issued an injunction against the state defining marriage as between one man and one woman.