One year after Obergefell, Texas clerk still won’t say if she’ll issue same-sex marriage licenses
Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that made marriage equality the law of the land.
However, in addition to backlash over the decision in the form of anti-LGBT state legislation, same-sex couples in some parts of the nation — including numerous counties in Alabama — are still unable to obtain marriage licenses in their hometowns. In other places, it remains unclear whether clerks will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Among the pockets of continued resistance is Irion County, Texas, population 1,500, where Clerk Molly Criner refuses to say if her office will comply with the ruling. According to census data from UCLA’s Williams Institute, there were no same-sex couples living in Irion County in 2010. And Criner has said that no same-sex couple has requested a marriage license from her office.
The New Civil Rights Movement first brought national attention to Criner’s position after she testified before a state legislative committee in support of anti-LGBT religious freedom legislation in February.
“Am I obligated by law to issue a marriage license? I am. But I’m also obligated by law to issue a marriage license only between a man and a woman,” Criner told the committee. “This is going to be something that violates my oath.”
In the wake of the high court’s ruling, Criner compared her plight to clerks in Nazi Germany who were asked to collect information about Jews but refused to do so.
“I mean no disrespect to the same-sex couples who wish the benefits of marriage for their relations — no animosity toward them. I just have to look at what God said, and I have to look at the way our Constitution was based on what God said,” Criner told The Christian Reporter News. “I hope everybody really likes me when it’s over, and I hope I still have a home, and I hope I’m not in jail, but I really can’t think about any of that. I just leave it in the hands of God.”
With the marriage equality anniversary approaching, The Washington Blade contacted Criner to find out whether she still plans to defy the ruling.
“We don’t discuss marriage policy over the phone,” Criner told the Blade. “But we can tell you that anybody who applies for a marriage license needs to come and bring ID and both parties need to show up, and then we’ll evaluate their qualifications at that time.”
Despite Texas’ reputation as a bastion for anti-LGBT bigotry, Irion County is believed to be the only one in the state — out of 254 — where it remains unclear if same-sex couples can obtain marriage licenses.
After Obergefell, GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion encouraging county clerks to defy the ruling. However, a federal judge subsequently put Paxton in his place by threatening him with contempt of court over the state’s refusal to provide accurate birth and death certificates to same-sex couples. Already facing first-degree felony charges for alleged securities fraud, Paxton quickly complied with the judge’s orders.
In addition, one county clerk who followed Paxton’s legal advice, Hood County’s K.T. Lang, was sued by a same-sex couple for refusing to issue them a license, resulting in a $44,000 settlement.
At the intersection of politics, religion, law, social justice, and civil rights, The New Civil Rights Movement is a broadly cited media organization delivering news and opinion dedicated to the wide interests of the progressive and LGBT communities.
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