Some Counties Withholding Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Jeff Sralla, left, with his partner of 28 years, Gerard Gafford, at the Travis County Clerk's office, where they applied for a marriage license after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide on June 26, 2015. Travis County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately after the ruling, but other counties did not.
Jeff Sralla, left, with his partner of 28 years, Gerard Gafford, at the Travis County Clerk's office, where they applied for a marriage license after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide on June 26, 2015. Travis County began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately after the ruling, but other counties did not.

*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Three days after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, some Texas county clerks are refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Several clerk’s offices — including those in Hill and Hood counties in North Central Texas, Bastrop and Burleson counties in Central Texas, Jackson County on the Gulf Coast and Odessa's Ector County — said Monday they were awaiting forms or legal guidance or simply objected.

“I’m standing up for my religious liberty,” said Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, who said her office would not give out same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds. “I do believe that marriage is for one man and one woman because it did derive from the Bible." 

After the decision Friday, some county officials said they would wait to hear from state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued a written opinion Sunday saying clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages can refuse to issue those licenses. But if they do so, he wrote, they might face fine or lawsuits.

 

Paxton said pro bono lawyers would be ready to defend those who refuse, noting "the reach of the Court's opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty." Lang said that after reading Paxton’s opinion, she chose to face possible legal action.

“I could get fined and I could get sued," she said, “but you could get sued for anything.”

As of Monday morning, no couples had asked for a same-sex marriage license from Hood County, Lang said.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, wrote U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Monday, urging the Justice Department to monitor the state and "ensure that Texas officials do not flout the Supreme Court's ruling and blatantly discriminate against same sex couples." Ellis said he worried Paxton's legal guidance to county clerks "significantly increases the likelihood of civil rights violations."  

In East Texas, San Jacinto County Clerk Dawn Wright was "sent into a tailspin" after the ruling, her office said in statement Sunday. Wright will not issue same-sex marriage licenses herself, according to the statement, because of "religious reasons and as a matter of conscience." One of her six deputy clerks is willing to administer licenses; the other five objected on religious grounds, the statement said.

Bell County in Central Texas will issue the licenses, but will make accommodations for any deputy clerks with religious objections, Clerk Shelley Coston said in a statement. Coston said she would not open up the office to litigation by refusing to grant same-sex marriage licenses.

"The costs of defending such a lawsuit and the potential for damages would be substantial," she said in the statement. "I cannot do that to our taxpayers."

Some clerks who were not issuing same-sex marriage licenses said they were waiting for legal guidance from local officials.

In Ector County, Deputy Chief Clerk Jennifer Martin said her office would issue the licenses as soon as it receives an updated form from the state registrar. The form the county received Friday afternoon had an error, she said. 

The clerk’s offices in Hill and Burleson counties also said they were waiting for a new application form before handing out licenses.

As of Monday afternoon, Texas' 15 most populous counties were issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. 

Jolie McCullough contributed to this report.

 

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