Many Texas counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite AG’s opinion

Texas plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes (center) celebrate on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas.

Texas plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes (center) celebrate on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Daulton Venglar, The Daily Texan via AP)

Texas plaintiffs Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes (center) celebrate on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas. Daulton Venglar, The Daily Texan via AP)

Plaintiffs in the Texas same-sex marriage challenge, Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes (center), celebrate on the steps of the Texas Capitol, Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas.

AUSTIN, Texas — Many county clerks across Texas have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite instructions from the state attorney general that they could refuse to do so if it violates their religious beliefs. And the ones holding out say they are doing so mostly for logistic – not religious – reasons.

Counties in more liberal areas of the fiercely conservative state began sanctioning same-sex weddings within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Friday legalizing gay marriage nationwide and wiping out a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution banning it.

Some counties originally reported holding off to wait for updated paperwork or further state instructions. But many of those announced they would issue gay marriage licenses beginning Monday, including Harris County, the state’s largest and where Houston is located.

That about-face comes despite a weekend opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who wrote that “county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms,” including objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. He suggested that officials who defy the Supreme Court order could face fines or lawsuits – but said private attorneys were ready to defend them, and even do so for free.

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Not many county officials appeared ready to take Paxton up on that offer, however. The Associated Press polled a dozen counties, mostly in GOP-dominated West Texas, and found many issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas also set up a statewide hotline and asked gay couples to call if they were denied marriage licenses. Once statewide vital statistics forms had been modified in conjunction with the legalization of same-sex marriages, the group said had received no major complaints, according to Rebecca Robertson, its legal and policy director.

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