Howdy, Texas! In the mood to marry your same-sex partner? That opportunity is now yours, and fully legal here in the Lone Star State. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, all bans on gay marriage in the U.S. have been overturned as unconstitutional, and that includes the one that was enshrined in the Texas Constitution in 2003. (For those unclear on how that works: U.S. Constutition > Texas Constitution.)
Last night, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement urging county clerks and Justices of the Peace to avert their eyes from whatever ruling the Supreme Court would issue and to await his guidance on how best to proceed:
[W]hatever the ruling, I would recommend that all County Clerks and Justices of the Peace wait for direction and clarity from this office about the meaning of the Court’s opinion and the rights of Texans under the law.
“To be clear – the law in the state of Texas is that marriage is one man and one woman, and the position of this office is that the United States Constitution clearly does not speak to any right to marriage other than one man and one woman and that the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty and the right to believe in traditional marriage without facing discrimination. If the Court suggests otherwise, prudence dictates we reflect on precisely what the Court says, what it means, and how to proceed consistent with the rule of law.
Prudence may or may not dictate reflection, but the Supreme Court dictates that same-sex marriage is legal, and that the law that Paxton refers to is not. Paxton followed up this morning, following the SCOTUS ruling, with an impassioned statement insisting that “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,” while Governor Abbott sent out a press release informing Texans that “Despite the Supreme Court’s rulings, Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected. No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.”
That’s a lot of bluster, but it adds up to nothing: While Paxton can do all the urging that he wants, he can’t overturn the Supreme Court. Governor Greg Abbott, meanwhile, issued his own strongly-worded press release: “No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.” Well, if he’s trying to suggest that county clerks and justices of the peace who object to same-sex marriage don’t have to issue licenses, then he’s wrong. At a time when the country is celebrating a historic and important expansion of rights to those who have long been denied, our governor and attorney general are thinking small, serving the shrinking number of folks who believe they have been infringed upon.
Still, it’ll probably take some time, in some parts of the state, for this to all settle. In Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Hidalgo, Tarrant, and Travis Counties, same-sex couples are already being granted licenses, Paxton’s urgings be damned. In Collin, Hays, and Williamson Counties, meanwhile, they’re still waiting for some of that reflection and guidance. It’s hard to keep track of every one of Texas’ 254 counties and what their clerks are doing, but right now, it looks like eat least a third of the population of Texas is now able to enjoy their constitutionally-protected right to marry the partner of their choice regardless of gender.
All of this should shake out in the next few hours and/or days. The guidance that Paxton intends to offer to clerks about how to proceed will be coming this afternoon, but regardless of what exactly he says, the Supreme Court’s ruling is plain and unambiguous. It overturns state bans on same-sex marriage, and does not leave room for exemptions because a county clerk or Attorney General somewhere finds that issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple would be against his or her religion. (Clergy in Texas, meanwhile, are under no obligation to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples if they choose not to.) Those individual beliefs are precious within the church, but not the courthouse, and that distinction was drawn sharply today by the Supreme Court:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
(Update 1:15pm: There is some confusion in Harris County now. The Texas Observer reports that, despite a letter from the Harris County Attorney explaining that the County Clerks are to use the current forms in issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, “A woman in Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart’s marriage license office, who declined to identify herself, said that the county clerk’s office ‘is not issuing any marriage licenses today’ because they are ‘waiting for the new application forms to come in.’ She said she didn’t know when those forms would be available.”
Update 2pm: According to KHOU, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart will begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 3pm.)
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)