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.
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.