Liberty Court Reporting
Update at 3:13 p.m.: Post has been updated with Abbott spokesman’s clarification.
Update at 2:15 p.m.: AUSTIN — A lawyer for the Texas gay-marriage lawsuit plaintiffs said Friday afternoon that Gov. Greg Abbott is asking for a lot of additional lawsuits that will be expensive for the state when he encourages resistance to the Supreme Court’s decision.
Hours after the ruling, Abbott sent a memo to the heads of state agencies directing them to “preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan.” That order “applies to any agency decision, ” including granting or denying benefits, managing state employees and making decisions on or enforcing contracts, licenses and permits, the memo says.
Abbott said agency heads “should ensure that no one acting on behalf of their agency takes any adverse action against any person, as defined in Chapter 311 of the Texas Government Code, on account of the person’s act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief.”
The section of state law says “person” includes a “corporation, organization, government or governmental subdivision or agency, business trust, estate, trust, partnership, association, and any other legal entity.”
In the just-ended legislative session, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, unsuccessfully pushed a bill that, among other things, would have shielded religiously affiliated child-welfare organizations that object to working with gay foster or adoptive parents. (See bottom of original post below for more.)
In an email, John Wittman, Abbott’s deputy press secretary, did not specifically confirm that Abbott was thinking about such child-placing agencies.
“The directive ensures that individuals doing business with the state cannot be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs, ” he said.
Wittman specifically dismissed as inaccurate a Texas Tribune report quoting an unnamed Abbott aide as saying that the governor’s memo means that a human resources director at a state agency could deny benefits to a state employee’s same-sex spouse if the director had strong religious beliefs that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
“The governor’s directive does not authorize or order state agencies to deny benefits to same-sex couples, ” Wittman wrote.
San Antonio lawyer Neel Lane, who represented the two same-sex couples who successfully challenged Texas’ gay marriage ban, condemned Abbott’s action and statements.
“There will be lawsuits, ” Lane said as his clients and the head of the gay rights group Equality Texas held a news conference at the LBJ Library in Austin. “You cannot deny a citizen’s rights under color of state law, ” which means an official’s action performed as part of his government duty, Lane said. He said that lawyers could win from the state court costs and attorney fees by filing federal suits against state and local officials who deny people their constitutional rights — such as, now, same-sex marriage.
“I’m astonished that the chief executive of Texas is encouraging state officials not to follow the law based on religious beliefs, ” Lane said.
Update at 11:53 a.m.: U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia has lifted the stay on his opinion that initially declared Texas’ ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.
In a short, one-paragraph order issued soon after the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Garcia said he was lifting the delay he imposed on Feb. 26, 2014, that had stopped his decision from going into effect until higher courts could rule. Friday’s order dissolved that stay and also prohibited Texas officials from enforcing the state’s constitutional bar on acknowledging same-sex marriages, “and other laws or regulations prohibiting a person from marrying another person of the same sex or recognizing same-sex marriage.”
The order, for all intents and purposes, appears to enjoin state officials from trying to stop gay marriages in Texas.
Update at 10:21 a.m.: AUSTIN — The Supreme Court’s long-awaited ruling that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right brought rapturous joy to many gay and lesbian Texans Friday.
“We thank the Supreme Court for the best wedding gift one could ever receive, the ability to marry, ” said Plano lawyer Mark Phariss, who plans to wed his 17-year partner Vic Holmes in November. “Today’s decision reaffirms the American principles of freedom, justice and equality for all. Let freedom ring!”
In the political arena, only Texas Democrats were pleased.
“Love won today. Texas Democrats joyfully celebrate, ” state Democratic chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “Our state and country are finally on the right side of history. However, there’s still a group of narrow-minded Republican lawmakers standing on the wrong side. We will remain vigilant to ensure that the right to marry is not infringed.”
GOP state leaders, though, blasted the court’s ruling as an overreach. Some scoffed that it was the worst sort of judicial activism.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted, “Marriage was defined by God. No man can redefine it. We will defend our religious liberties.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton, also a Republican, called the decision “a radical departure from countless generations of societal law and tradition.”
In a statement, Paxton compared the marriage decision with the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. He called the declaration of a right to same-sex marriage another example of how the U.S. Constitution, a guarantor of liberty, “can be molded to mean anything by unelected judges.”
The court’s ruling will embolden aggressive activists, Paxton said. He vowed to protect “people who take personal, moral stands based upon their conscience and the teachings of their religion.”
Abbott agreed, saying in a statement, “No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.”
State GOP chairman Tom Mechler said the decision creates unnecessary upheaval.
“It’s a harrowing day in America when unelected judges have the power to upend an institution that has been widely recognized as a virtuous force in society, ” he said in a statement. “This decision is just another example of Washington DC elites ruling against the will of the American people and usurping power from the states.”
Two of the “Liberty 8, ” a group of very conservative GOP freshmen in the Texas Senate, said the decision tramples on the 10th Amendment, which says powers not given to the federal government by the Constitution are “reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”