Central Texas judge defends decision not to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies

Posted at 6:57 PM, Jun 27, 2017
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:30:53-04

On Tuesday, a McLennan County Justice of the Peace defended her choice not to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples, citing her Christian beliefs.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, Judge Dianne Hensley, who has the option of performing marriages, said she stopped doing the ceremonies for all couples.

However, she said since August of 2016, she started doing them again but only for opposite-sex couples, performing at least 70 of them.  

According to Hensley, she doesn’t believe she is breaking the law because she is protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

She added it is a possibility that someone would file a lawsuit against her.

"In the United States, anybody can sue anybody for anything. I hope not. I'm not looking for that. I have no desire to offend anybody but the last person I want to offend is God,” Hensley said.

The elected official added that when few same-sex couples have called her office inquiring about wedding ceremonies, her staff usually tells them the following: “I’m sorry but Judge Hensley has a sincerely held religious belief as a Christian and will not be able to perform any same-sex weddings.”

After this, Hensley said they refer them to Justice of the Peace David Pareya in West who performs wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples. Names for other officiants are also offered, according to the judge.

Rev. Charley Garrison, who is the pastor at the Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church, performs religious ceremonies for same-sex couples. He said he has married 50 of them since the SCOTUS decision in 2015.

Garrison, who is in a same-sex marriage, said he is disappointed because it appears the judge is only wanting to serve a portion of the taxpayers instead of the entire population.

"If she is only willing to marry different-sex couples and same-sex couples can't get married by her that seems like an inequality. What it does, it relegates the LGBTQ population to a second class citizenship,” Rev. Garrison said.

He added it doesn’t seem like she is breaking the law but that she is testing the law.

Garrison said ideally she would be willing to marry all couples but if not, she should not marry anyone.

The attorney for McLennan County Mike Dixon said justices of the peace were advised to either perform all weddings or not perform any of them when same-sex marriage became legal.

Dixon said the county cannot force JPs to perform certain duties when it is a discretionary power, such as wedding ceremonies.

He said after researching this matter, he has not found out any information that states Hensley is violating the law because there is no case law that addresses this issue.

In 2015, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a nonbinding legal opinion addressing the religious liberties of county clerks, their employees and justices of the peace when it comes to issuing same-sex marriage licenses or conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Since this past weekend when the public found out about Hensley's decision to conduct only opposite-sex marriages, Hensley said there have been two profane calls to her office in opposition and up to 50 in support.

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