By Kim Hilsenbeck
Rejoicing around the country regarding the Supreme Court’s decision giving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry was met with disapproval by the top Texas lawmakers.
But local responses on Facebook overwhelmingly supported the idea.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, giving gay and lesbian couples the same legal right to marry and recognition of their marriages as heterosexual couples.
Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, issued the following statement after the ruling:
“Today’s Supreme Court decision has achieved what was, until very recently, unthinkable: marriage equality in Texas. At long last, loving LGBT couples throughout the state have the freedom to marry as well as equal respect and protection for their marriages.”
But Texas leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton – three of the state’s staunchest Republicans — continue erecting barriers to the practical implementation of the decision.
Patrick wants to allow county clerks, justices of the peace and judges refuse to participate in same-sex marriages based on their personal religious beliefs. According to a statement Friday afternoon, Patrick asked Paxton to expand what many call the “Pastor Protection Act,” which passed earlier this year. That law reaffirms existing protections for clergy members who refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
“My request broadens the scope of SB 2065 to include County Clerks, judges and Justices of the Peace who may be forced to issue a marriage license or preside over a wedding that is against the free exercise of their religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Patrick said. “It has been said that those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history. I would rather be on the wrong side of history than on the wrong side of my faith and my beliefs. I believe I am not alone in that view in this country.”
Many Texas residents including those in Hays County, however, disagree. Though unscientific, the overwhelming majority of comments to a Facebook post about the decision revealed support for legalizing gay marriage.
One commenter, Ellie Macias, wrote, “Ecstatic about the ruling. I don’t see what religion has to do with equality what so ever. Now they can have the same benefits as all U.S. citizens and no longer be considered as second class citizens.”
Paxton opined on Patrick’s request, issuing a statement on Sunday that said, in part, “It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, 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 rights.”
Local religious leaders also weighed in on the issue on if and how they felt the ruling would impact their religion.
Pastor David Sweet of Hays Hill Baptist Church in Buda said in an emailed response, “I think it will take five to ten years to really see the results of this decision. Pastors will likely lose their licenses to perform the civil aspect of weddings. That’s fine. I think there will be a significant impact on evangelicals’ employment and businesses.”
Sweet also said, “Churches … will likely lose their tax-exempt status within ten years.” (His full letter is available here.)
Associate pastor Tracey Beadle said, “Pastors have always had the freedom to refuse to marry any couple that they’re uncomfortable marrying, and the SCOTUS ruling on Same-Sex Marriage doesn’t change that. Neither does the SCOTUS ruling change the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline (the book that states the official doctrine and polity of the UMC), which currently states that same-sex unions may not be conducted by United Methodist clergy or in United Methodist churches. It does not infringe on our freedom to exercise our faith at all. In fact, the opposite is more true. The Christian faith, as it’s expressed by some Christians, has infringed upon the civil rights of GLBT people for too long now.” (Her full letter is available here.)
Hays County issued 15 marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples as of July 2.
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