Texas Attorney General Uses Religion to Stop Same-Sex Marriage

Texas Attorney General Uses Religion to Stop Same-Sex Marriage

With the ink still drying on the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, granting marriage equality across the the United States, the opposition is already lining up.

Leading the charge is Texas, whose Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) said Sunday that county clerks and magistrates could ignore the Supreme Court decision if they held religious objections. 

"Importantly, the reach of the Court's opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty. Even the flawed majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges acknowledged there are religious liberty protections of which individuals may be able to avail themselves. Our 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," Paxton said in a statement.

The attorney general also urged Texans to speak out against Supreme Court "lawlessness." 

In response, gay rights groups like the National Center for Lesbian Rights condemned the statement. "Public officials have no constitutional or statutory right to discriminate in providing public services," the organization's legal director, Shannon Minter, told the Washington Post.

The real lawlessness was not from the Supreme Court, but from Paxton, who, as the state's top prosecutor, certainly must know that states are always subordinate to the federal government and cannot act in defiance of a Supreme Court order. Paxton's statement treads down a well-worn path of state officials attempting to subvert the court — which always comes to the same outcome.

In 2014, when the Supreme Court expanded marriage to five new states, some, like Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, issued a similar proclamation decrying the decision and ordering local probate judges not to carry it out. For a time, a significant number of judges declined to issue marriage licenses before abandoning the plan as legally unsound. In 2003, Moore had lost his Chief Justice seat after defying another federal order to remove a statue of the 10 commandments from the Alabama State Supreme Court grounds. The people, however, were forgiving, and ultimately returned him to office in 2012.

As past instances of defying a Supreme Court decision have shown, local authorities rarely make it very far ignoring the law. In 1957, three years after the Supreme Court desegregated schools following Brown v. Board of Education, Arkansas openly defied the order and refused entry to nine black students at the capital's Little Rock Central High School. With the state's own governor leading the charge, President Dwight Eisenhower ultimately sent in the U.S. army and enforced the ruling with the barrel of a gun.

Since Paxton knows all this, it is unlikely the issue will escalate beyond a show for voters. Nevertheless, the spectacle — however long it goes on — still serves to deny LGBT Americans in Texas their hard-won constitutional rights, and as Martin Luther King Jr. said during his own struggle for civil rights, justice too long delayed is justice denied.