Opinion: Texas GOP Bill Allows Officials to Refuse Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

All the signs have been glaring and damned frightening to anyone paying attention. And yet every media outlet, including most liberal sites save one or two, have chosen to ignore the threat from an emboldened religious right who helped Vladimir Putin put an incompetent malcontent in the White House.

It is worth noting that in January of this year, the Huffington Post asked, and answered the question in an article: “Could Republicans Undo Marriage Equality? Yes – Here’s How.” The article is worth a read if for no other reason than to see a preview of precisely what is unfolding right now in Texas and is coming soon in a bigoted religious Republican state near you.

First, it is noteworthy that since the “landmark” Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to marry the person they love, there were very few, if any, Texas officials refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In most cases, a Supreme Court ruling is considered to be the law of the land and apparently, Texas officials embraced that Constitutional reality. However, now religious Republicans have started chipping away at that ruling in Texas by voting to allow judges, county officials, and county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they claim doing so offends their “personal religious beliefs.”

As is always the case with religious right Republicans, they claim that “the faithful” are suffering blatant and painful discrimination if they can’t discriminate against the gay community. The religious right bigot who sponsored the bill, state Senator Brian Birdwell, said, “If we don’t do this, we are discriminating against people of faith.” The people of faith Birdwell refers to are evangelical clerks, judges, justices of the peace and other elected officials whose mandate as civil servants includes issuing marriage licenses to all applicants in all 254 Texas counties.

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The religious legislation’s opponents are spot on in saying the bill both “sanctions discrimination and defies the nation’s highest court;” something the religious right and their Republican facilitators have never been shy about doing with religious zeal.

The president of the Texas Freedom Network, Kathy Miller, heads an activist group supporting equal rights for all Texans and said in a statement:

The Texas Senate today said it has no problem with public officials picking and choosing which taxpayers they will serve. This bill opens the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination against virtually anyone who doesn’t meet a public official’s personal moral standards.”

This religious Republican move was bound to come and it was evident when maniacal evangelical and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued “a non-binding opinion” immediately after the 2015 Supreme Court ruling giving same-sex couples their constitutional equal rights. Paxton suggested that county clerks statewide could refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the High Court’s ruling. Paxton also said, in defense of the faithful panting to discriminate against same-sex couples that “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 right.” But he was not referring to defending all Texans’ rights, only the faithful’s rights to discriminate, violate the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, and defy the “law of the land.”

Apparently, most Texas officials recognized a High Court ruling is the law of the land regardless their equal rights under the law are already enshrined in the “real” law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.  In fact, as a former Judge and Democrat from Houston, Senator Sylvia Garcia, said, the new law is unnecessary particularly because Texas officials have been issuing marriage licenses for nearly two years without any objection or cries of “religious persecution” or discrimination against the faithful; they were doing the job they were elected and paid to do.

Senator Garcia said the only thing the bill will accomplish is provoking “many Republican officials” to legally stop doing their jobs by claiming bible. Garcia also said the religious Republicans will start discriminating against same-sex couples not necessarily because they have legitimate, religious-based problems, but because they want to impress local evangelical voters. She said:

All the clerks and judges know about the law and are following the law.” When Ms. Garcia asked if the constitutional duties elected officials swear to uphold shouldn’t extend to enforcing Supreme Court decisions, the religious edict’s sponsor and raging Baptist Birdwell cut her off, and issued a sermon stating that the state Senate will not engage in a “constitutional debate” about adhering to the law of the land. Baptist Birdwell told Garcia in no uncertain terms that “lawmaking belongs to the legislative branch, not the courts.”

Birdwell seriously needs to get off the David Barton bandwagon and take a minute to peruse the Constitution he took an oath to uphold, but not in preparation for some future constitutional debate, but to learn that when the Supreme Court issues a ruling, it is the law.

Democrats in the Texas Senate attempted to ameliorate the religious edict’s potential damage by inserting amendments to weaken the religious legislation. But Republicans said “Hell No” and eliminated them summarily. One amendment, in particular, something every Texas taxpayer should support, was “docking the pay of Texas officials who refused to do the jobs they were elected to do;” issue marriage licenses.

The Texas bill, when signed by the governor, will almost certainly be struck down in any federal court proceeding. Last summer, for example, a Federal Judge in Mississippi struck down a similar state provision that allowed country clerks to recuse themselves (refuse to do their jobs) from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they claimed they were refusing to do their jobs because of religious objections.

No matter what a Federal Judge does with Texas’ unconstitutional religious legislation, human rights advocates say that same-sex couples nationwide are safe for “maybe” a couple of years. With a new conservative majority on the High Court, and a Trump that opposes marriage equality because he is “a traditionalist,” it is almost certain some state’s religious Republicans will succeed in getting the High Court to revisit the Obergefell ruling. Their hope is that SCOTUS will conclude that the previous Court committed a gross error by using the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a guiding force instead of what evangelical Republicans consider the only law of the land – the Christian bible.

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