Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Sunday afternoon issued a formal opinion claiming that public officials in the Lone Star State can use religion as an excuse to discriminate and refuse to carry out the duties of their taxpayer-funded jobs.
Paxton was replying to a request from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick about whether county clerks, judges and other public officials must issue licenses or conduct weddings for gay and lesbian couples. On Friday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay and lesbian Americans have a constitutional right to marry.
In his opinion this afternoon, Paxton writes:
- “County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case”
- “Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”
Paxton even offers legal advice for public officials who refuse to do their jobs:
“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, 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.”
This is shocking, even by Texas standards. What’s next? Will public employees have the right to refuse to do their jobs when they don’t share the same faith as couples who come before them? Will Christian judges be able to refuse to marry Hindus or Buddhists? Will a justice of the peace who is Muslim be able to deny services to Jews? Will Catholic clerks be able to refuse to issue a license to couples that include someone who has previously divorced? What about officials who belong to sects that preach white supremacy? Will they be able to refuse to issue marriage licenses to or marry interracial couples?
This reckless and irresponsible attorney general has effectively declared war on the Constitution’s guarantee of equality under the law for all. It’s a shameful day for Texas.
All Texans, regardless of their religious or partisan political beliefs, must take a stand for the rule of law and the Constitution. Send a message right now to Attorney General Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott: Obey the Constitution and stop unlawfully obstructing the freedom to marry.