Jim Cato

Attorneys for a Hood County same-sex couple have settled with a county clerk who had denied them a marriage license because of her personal religious beliefs.

Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton announced Monday, Aug. 17, that they settled their suit against Hood County Clerk Katie Lang for almost $44,000 in attorney’s fees.

After the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision affirming marriage equality, Lang refused to issue the couple a marriage license because of her personal religious beliefs against marriage equality. She also initially refused to allow anyone in her office to issue a marriage license to Cato and Stapleton, or any other same-sex couple.

Cato and Stapleton sued Lang and chose to proceed with the lawsuit even though Lang changed the “policy” for her office and they were able to get their marriage license from the clerk’s office the day after filing suit.

As David Taffet points out in this Instant Tea post about a county clerk in Kentucky who continues to refuse to issue marriage licenses to any couple to avoid having to issue a license to a same-sex couple, a 2006 case, Garcetti v Ceballo, limited free speech protections for government employees when they are on the job. Employers must make some accommodations for religious beliefs, but employees must still do the core, central duties of their jobs. In the opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that a public official is only protected only when engaged in an issue as a private citizen, not if it is expressed as part of the official’s public duties.