Gay lobby groups go after clerks who won't issue marriage licenses

by Jae Wasson
Posted 6/30/15, 03:28 pm

In the face of Friday’s Supreme Court ruling, state officials with religious convictions are grappling with how to reconcile their beliefs with the pressure to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“My religious convictions will not allow me to in good conscience issue same-sex marriage licenses,” Casey Davis, clerk in Casey County, Ky., said. “So I choose not to issue a marriage license, period.”

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear ordered state clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing the unions. Kentucky officials have sworn to uphold the law, he said, despite any personal objections.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky is offering to represent same-sex couples who have been refused marriage licenses. Davis questions why he must be forced to issue licenses when Kentucky couples can go to any county office to obtain a marriage license.

County clerks in Louisiana also are facing legal pressure to issue same-sex marriage licenses. On Friday, the Louisiana Clerks of Court Association told clerks they could wait to issue licenses for 25 days, in case the Supreme Court decides on a re-hearing.

Then, on Sunday, the association received a letter from LGBT rights group, the Forum for Equality Louisiana, threatening to sue county clerks who were not ready to issue licenses. The next day, the association told clerks: “You can issue the license as soon as your office is ready to do so.” Clerks began issuing licenses that day.

County clerks who object on religious grounds are not without official support. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, issued an executive order in May stating the Supreme Court’s decision does not force people like Davis to violate their religious convictions. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is allowing state officials to cite religious objections in denying marriage licenses.

“There is going to be a lot of battles coming up,” J. Thomas Diepenbrock, an attorney who works with religious liberty cases, predicted.

Diepenbrock said if a lawyer did sue a clerk for refusing to issue a marriage license, there would be different “lines of defense,” available to defend the side of religious liberty. He said state legislation, like the North Carolina bill protecting religious magistrates from performing same-sex marriages, could shield the clerks. The Family Research Council is pushing for similar First Amendment protection at the federal level.

“This is a long-term effort,” Diepenbrock said, “Our freedom of speech, our freedom of religion is at risk. We have to fight to preserve it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jae Wasson

Jae is a contributor to WORLD and WORLD's first Pulliam fellow. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Patrick Henry College, and she writes the Human Race page for WORLD Magazine. Jae resides in Corvallis, Ore.

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