Central Texas counties begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Posted at 4:15 PM, Jun 29, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-30 09:02:12-04

Three days after the United States Supreme Court allowed same-sex couple to be married, counties in Central Texas are working to issue marriage licenses, others are still waiting on direction from county supervisors.

McLennan County began issuing licenses June, 26, but placed a 72 hour hold on couples seeking marriage. That hold expired Monday. Bell County Clerk Shelley Costson said she would be issuing licenses to avoid potential lawsuits or fines that could result from denying same-sex couples.

"The cost of defending a lawsuit and the potential for damages would be substantial," she said. "I cannot do that to our taxpayers."

Along with Bell County, Falls, Lampasas and Limestone Counties all began issuing licenses Monday. Some counties were using new applications and licenses that replace man and woman indicators with applicant 1 and applicant 2 indicators. Other clerks say they are crossing out or blanking out as needed.

Clerks at Robertson and Hill Counties have not yet begun issuing same-sex licenses. Robertson County Clerk Kathy Brimhall said she and her staff were working on the new applications and licenses, and said they will be ready should a gay or lesbian couple request a license.

The Hill County Clerk's Office said they have the revised paperwork, but are still waiting for more direction from county supervisors. Only Hamilton County said they will not be issuing licenses despite having the revised applications.

These decisions come on the heels of a non-binding opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that said clerks, judges, and justices of the peace can refuse to give out same-sex licenses or perform ceremonies if they have religious objections.

"County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case," he said in the opinion. Paxton called the Supreme Court ruling "flawed," but acknowledged that state law says clerks shall issue marriage licenses but can defer their duties to a deputy clerk.

Paxton also said counties may face fines or lawsuits for choosing to withhold same-sex licenses. He added numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights."

For many clerks, the decision was cut and dry. Brimhall said it was as simple as following the law of the land.

"The Supreme Court is a pretty potent thing," She said. "I'm here to issue marriage licenses."

Other clerks said the decision has been a struggle. One clerk, who asked not to be named, said she spent her morning in tears trying to decide between allowing people in love to get married or following her deeply held faith.

"I don't want to make people angry. But it's a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation," she said.