The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that same-sex marriage is legal across the country, and that states are required to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states and grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Since the decision, hundreds of marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex Texas couples. Still, those in opposition argue that because of religious beliefs, they cannot be forced to issue marriage licenses.
In the landmark 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of marriage equality on June 26, 2015, making it the law of the land to allow same-sex couples to marry across the country and to recognize the unions of those already married in other states. The Court’s full opinion can be read here.
According to The Huffington Post, the justices ruled that under the 14th Amendment, states are required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and recognize same-sex unions that were previously performed in other states. In the majority opinion, the justices wrote that “the right to marriage is an inherent aspect of individual autonomy, because decisions about marriage are among the most intimate that an individual can make.” The opinion also states that “[e]xtending the right to marry protects families” and “without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser.” It also states that same-sex American couples have a right to “intimate association” beyond merely freedom from laws that ban homosexuality.
Justice Scalia in his dissent stated that the majority opinion lacked “even a thin veneer of law… Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality [whatever that means] were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie.”
In the dissent penned by Chief Justice John Roberts, the joining justices and Roberts argued that same-sex marriage was not endorsed by the Constitution, writing “[c]elebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits, but do not celebrate the Constitution.”
Speaking after the Court’s decision was rendered, according to CNN, President Barack Obama urged Americans to keep in mind that many of the Americans opposing same-sex marriage are in opposition “based on sincere and deeply held beliefs.” He also suggested that those beliefs “should remain a protected part of the country’s “deep commitment to religious freedom.” According to The Huffington Post, Obama also stated that “[t]oday we can say in no uncertain terms that we’ve made our union a little more perfect,” that the decision is a “victory for America,” and that “America should be very proud.”
The Decision’s Impact on Texans
Texas’ marriage-equality opposition did not sit idly waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision to react. Several leaders from Texas opposing same-sex marriage took several anticipatory measures in attempts to prevent any marriage equality decision from being effective in the state.
For example, one such attempt took place recently when Texas House Republicans attempted to push a bill known as HB 4105, which would have prevented state and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples to create a conflict between Texas state law and the Supreme Court’s constitutional interpretation. While the bill received overwhelming support from Republicans, the bill failed as Democrats ran out the legislative clock before lawmakers could vote.
In another example, according to NBCDFW.com, when the Texas Supreme Court upheld the divorce of a same-sex couple who married in Massachusetts in 2004, Governor Greg Abbott objected stating that, “the Supreme Court did not address the Texas Constitution’s definition of marriage….and marriage in Texas remains an institution between one man and one woman.” Abbott additionally challenged the validity of the divorce by arguing that “a divorce couldn’t be granted in a state where the marriage isn’t recognized as valid.” In Abbott’s statement, he also said that:
“[t]he Texas Constitution continues to stand as the governing law for marriage in the State of Texas. The State and all political subdivisions in Texas remain prohibited by the Texas Constitution from giving effect to a same-sex marriage or any document recognizing one—including the divorce decree in this case.”
The opinion, penned by Justice Brown, stated that Abbott’s petition failed because he was too late to intervene, and therefore the state lacked standing. The full opinion can be viewed on WTAW NewsTalk 1620’s website.
“The Supreme Court HOLDS that the appeals court properly determined that the state did not have standing to appeal in this case because its attempt to intervene was too late, after the final judgment, and that the initial mandamus petition was improper in the Supreme Court. The state raises three arguments supporting a right to appeal the disputed divorce decree: (1) its intervention motion was timely; (2) its standing is proper under the virtual-representation doctrine; and (3) it has standing on appeals by equitable considerations.”
The recognition of same-sex divorce preluded the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision, and it is likely a reason why Abbott did not remain silent even though the state lacked standing. Now that the Supreme Court, although divided, ruled in favor of marriage equality, what does that mean for Texans opposing same-sex marriage?
On Sunday, June 28, State Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion claiming clerks, judges and justices of the peace could dodge their legal responsibilities to issue licenses and perform weddings based on their religious beliefs, according to New York Daily News.
While Paxton acknowledged that clerks run the risk of being sued and fined, Paxton stated 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 rights.” Paxton also went on to say that “[o]ur religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes. While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last.”
According to Breitbart, Governor Abbott echoed in Paxton’s sentiments that no one should be forced to issue a marriage license if it goes against their beliefs:
“As I have done in the past, I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans—including those whose conscience dictates that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. Later today, I will be issuing a directive to state agencies instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.”
More statements from Texan leaders against same-sex marriage can be viewed here.
Still, several Texas counties began issuing licenses in compliance with the ruling, with Dallas alone issuing 170 marriage licenses on Friday. According to NBCDFW.com, Jack Evans and George Harris became the first gay couple to wed in Dallas County after 54 years together. In Dallas County, 13 district judges and five family court judges said they would waive the usual 72-hour waiting period between receiving a marriage license and performing the ceremony to allow couples to be married the same day they were received, and the courthouse additionally extended its hours.
In Tarrant County, judges did not grant waivers on the 72-hour mandatory wait, but still began granting the licenses Friday morning.
In Denton County, clerk Juli Luke denied marriage applications to all three same-sex couples who tried to obtain one Friday morning, but said that she is not defying the high court’s ruling, but instead is taking time to make sure the process is done correctly, stating that she wants proper forms from the county’s vendor that do not specify “bride” and “groom.” Luke also stated that she was seeking guidance from the district attorney.
While the Supreme Court’s decision has already been utilized for couples like Evans and Harris, it is already evident that many same-sex couples seeking to wed in Texas will face more obstacles than they would if they were marrying in other states. And while those in opposition of marriage equality in Texas are doing anything but remaining silent, the Supreme Court’s decision has already allowed hundreds of same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses in Texas. Time will tell if the process for these couples to marry will become easier or harder than it is now.