A judge in Texas who has refused for the past four years to officiate marriages involving same-sex couples got a public warning from the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct.
McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley (R) has refused to perform same-sex marriages ever since the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in its Obergefell v. Hodges decision. But she is still officiating opposite-sex marriages.
Justices of the peace are not required to officiate marriages in Texas, but they can do it on the side and earn some extra money.
Hensley said that she is a Christian and therefore is entitled to a “religious exemption” to the law that requires judges to be impartial.
“So I’m entitled to accommodations just as much as anyone else,” she told the Waco Tribune in 2017.
Since 2016, she has given same-sex couples who approached her to officiate their marriage a statement that said: “I’m sorry, but Judge Hensley has a sincerely held religious belief as a Christian, and will not be able to perform any same-sex weddings.”
The statement listed others who could officiate the wedding.
“I have no desire to offend anybody, but the last person I want to offend is God,” she told KXXV.
The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct opened an investigation into her discrimination and found that she violated the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires justices of the peace to be impartial, even in extra-judicial duties like officiating weddings.
The Commission also said that Hensley’s refusal to officiate same-sex weddings was “casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.”
She has 30 days to accept or appeal the Commission’s decision.
Hensley said that since she started giving same-sex couples the statement refusing to marry them, she has officiated around 70 opposite-sex marriages.
But the Texas Justice Court Training Center said in 2015 that judges who officiate any marriages at all the state cannot discriminate against same-sex couples.
“If you’re going to perform marriages, you must perform marriages for everyone,” said the training center’s executive director Thea Whalen.
Hensley said that no one’s rights were denied since a same-sex couple could have found another judge to marry them, even though she is the only judge who is performing marriages at all in Waco, according to a 2017 article.
“I sought a solution so that anyone in McLennan County who wants to get married can do so,” she said in a statement, adding that she thought federal law granted her a religious exemption. “I have, do, and always will follow the law.”
Many justices of the peace in Texas stopped performing marriages altogether after marriage equality became a reality in the state, but Hensley has not said whether she would do the same.
Hensley was elected justice of the peace in 2014 and re-elected in 2018.