In light of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling today legalizing same-sex marriage it's important to remember those who feel offended or threatened by this decision. Or at least Texas Governor Greg Abbott thinks that's important. Just as he placated the tinfoil-hat set with his Jade Helm letter, he's now appeasing bigots.
Only this time, his words might actually cause damage.
In not-so-coded language, Abbott's missive, issued hours after the SCOTUS decision came down, suggests that it's OK for county clerks and other civil servants to refuse to issue marriage licenses. The letter to "all state agency heads" notifies officials that they must "ensure that no one acting on behalf of their agency takes any adverse action against any person...on account of the person's act, or refusal to act, that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief."
Abbott claims that his authority in this matter is pulled from the First Amendment and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But it would be more accurate to say that his authority in this matter is pulled from his backside. We did not realize that county clerks have personal discretion when it comes to who's allowed to (legally) get married. It appears that Abbott wants to invest these civil servants with tremendous power and domain over a person's quality of life.
It's scary. And it also flies in the face of his statement that "Texans of all faiths must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious freedom is beyond the reach of government," since he seems to have just made potentates of paper-pushers. Abbott is explicitly telling agency heads that they ought to look the other way if some bureaucrat chooses not to do his or her job, which consists primarily of check-marking and stamping.
"As government officials, we have a constitutional duty to preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan," Abbott writes. The key words there are "every Texan." Not "every homophobic Texan." Not "every Texan troglodyte who is quickly being left behind by the 21st century." Nah — every Texan.
That includes the couples who came to the Harris County Clerk's Office seeking a marriage license Friday morning, and all the other couples throughout the state who did the same. That includes 85-year-old Jack Evans and 82-year-old George Harris, who got married in Dallas today after 54 years. Five decades they've waited. And Abbott would just as soon have them wait longer.
Abbott's crackpot argument purports to protect those who look at a couple like Evans and Harris and see a problem. But what about those who look at Evans and Harris and see love? Don't their religious beliefs deserve protection?
Sadly, we're not surprised by Abbott's objections. But that doesn't make them any less shameful.
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