Hood County Clerk Katie Lang Tuesday night, June 30 that while she, personally, would not issue any marriage licenses to same-sex couples because doing so would violate her religious beliefs, there will be someone in her office to issues those licenses.
Lang announced that she was reversing her earlier instructions prohibiting anyone in her office from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples after news broke that a couple who had been denied a license would be filing suit against her.
Lang said her office will begin processing marriage licenses for same-sex couples when she receives the appropriate forms.
According to reports by Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy, when the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v Hodges, upholding marriage equality nationwide, was first announced Friday, June 26, Lang sent an email to her staff saying, “The U.S. Supreme Court has just voted to allow gay Marriages but we as County Clerks are to follow the Law as stated in Texas.”
Lang initially posted notice on the Hood County Clerk website declaring that she would not be issuing licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious objections, and that the opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on the subject gave her and other county clerks that option.
“In the Attorney General’s opinion, Ken Paxton, issued in response to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick’s request for guidance, we find that although it fabricated a new constitutional right in 2015, the Supreme Court did not diminish, overrule or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion that formed the first freedom in the Bill of Rights in 1791,” Lang’s statement on the website declared. “This newly invented federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage should peaceably coexist alongside longstanding constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and speech.”
The Paxton opinion to which she referred did include admonishments that while individual county clerks and their individual employees could refuse to personally issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple based on religious objections, someone in those offices would be required to issue them. And, he noted, in any county clerk’s office refusing to do so, the clerk him- or herself would be personally liable for violating the Supreme Court’s orders and could be sued
In a new statement, posted to the Hood County Clerk website Tuesday evening, Lang suggested that it had been her intention all along to personally refrain from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but that she had never said her office as a whole would not issue them.
“The religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses,” Lang wrote in the newly posted statement. “Nonetheless, in addition to the county clerk offices in the several surrounding counties, as soon as the appropriate forms have been printed and supplied to my office, the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will have staff available and ready to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
“Because some have misreported and misconstrued my prior statements, I want to make clear that the County Clerk’s Office of Hood County will comply with the recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States,” she wrote, adding, “I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. That has not changed since last Friday. As Justice Kennedy stated, ‘it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.’”
However, a spokeswoman in Lang’s office told Dallas Voice on Tuesday that the Hood County Clerk’s Office, as a whole, would not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. And Kennedy said that in emails “obtained through an information request, her comments to staff were strident: ‘We are not issuing them because I am instilling my religious liberty in this office.’”
The county clerk’s husband, Mike Lang, announced in March that he is challenging incumbent Republican state Rep. Jim Keffer for the District 60 seat in the Texas House of Representatives in the 2016 election. Mike Lang is a retired police officer and the former constable in Hood County’s Precinct 3. He told the Eastland County Newspapers that he would “stand on his conservative and Christian principles, while defending the constitution.”