With all deliberate speed, Governor Greg Abbott on June 26 told county clerks and other officials who can issue marriage licenses that it's OK not to issue licenses, as long as you say you have a "religious" objection. And now Attorney General Ken Paxton has issued an opinion supporting Abbott.
Paxton's opinion states that it's OK for an individual clerk to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses, as long as the couple seeking the license has alternative means — i.e., as long as another employee of the clerk's office will do it. But what if no one in the county clerk's office wants to do it? That pits the clerks' constitutional rights against the couples' right to obtain a marriage license. So what happens, then, in this very real scenario? Well, "such a factually specific inquiry is beyond the scope of what this opinion can answer."
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Thanks, K-Dog. That's a big help.
It's embarrassing that state officials are even having to address this issue. For one thing, why would a Supreme Court decision strip anyone else of Constitutional rights? For another thing, why would Abbott automatically assume that civil servants who issue marriage licenses are worried about their religious liberty? Why not assume that these folks, who quietly do their jobs day-in, day-out without much thanks or notice, are actually professionals and not bigots?
Paxton's opinion also points out a clause in the Texas Family Code that bars officials from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, or national origin. We'd like if Abbott sought an opinion about those elements, though — why wouldn't religious objection apply to all varieties of hate?
It's fantastic that two high officials can quickly declare that bigotry needs protection. It would be even better if they declared the same for common sense.