Approved Senate Bill Would Allow County Clerks And Judges To Deny Same-Sex Marriages

Apr 11, 2017

Lawmakers in the Texas Senate have taken up a bill that would allow judges and county clerks to deny marriages to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.  Opponents question whether the bill, if enacted, would violate a person’s constitutional rights and whose rights would they be violating?

The bill by State Senator Brian Birdwell, a Granbury Republican, would exempt county clerks from having to draw up a marriage license for a same-sex couple and county judges from performing them, if doing so violated their own religious beliefs.

“If a judge is asked to perform a wedding [or] a marriage that is against their sincerely held religious belief, right now there is no protection for that judge to say, 'no'," Birdwell explains.

State Sen. Jose Menendez
Credit Ryan Poppe

But State Sen. Jose Menendez, a San Antonio Democrat, is concerned that ensuring county clerks and judges constitutional protection would also be violating same-sex couples' constitutional right of equal protection under the law.

“So are you concerned at all with the guarantee of equal treatment under the law?  Let’s say Harris County has a clerk that holds religious beliefs that denies marriage licenses but Bexar County’s clerk does not deny," says Menendez. "Would that create a situation in Texas where we are not providing equal treatment under the law?"

Birdwell says his legislation requires a county clerk or judge protesting a person’s marriage to appoint an alternative person to sign a couple’s marriage certificate or perform their ceremony.  The bill was approved by the Texas Senate on a vote of 21 to 10 and now heads to the House.