Clerks Must Issue Marriage Licenses To All Qualified Couples, Church-State Watchdog Says
Government employees who oppose marriage equality because of their religious beliefs are not entitled to refuse service to same-sex couples, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has informed officials in all 50 states today.
In a letter released today, which will be sent to all state attorneys general as well as county clerks in Texas and South Dakota, Americans United explains that with marriage equality now the law of the land, government employees do not have the right to opt out of serving gay couples, because doing so would harm those couples and violate their constitutional rights.
“As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, there is dignity in marriage for all couples,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “But government officials who refuse to serve same-sex couples are taking away that dignity.”
The letter was prompted by a recent memo from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a statement by South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who suggested that government employees may be allowed a religious exemption from serving same-sex couples.
In its memo, Americans United says the Constitution makes no such allowance.
“As with an interracial couple, imposing such burdens on a same-sex couple would burden, demean, and stigmatize the couple in a manner that violates the Constitution and other laws. Thus, allowing accommodations in these circumstances would subject government entities and officials to legal liability,” asserts the AU document.
Said Americans United Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper: “The Supreme Court meant what it said. Any same-sex couple denied service by a government official should contact Americans United’s legal department. We stand ready to represent same-sex couples whose rights are violated on account of religion.”
This action is part of Americans United’s new project, Protect Thy Neighbor, which seeks to stop religious-based discrimination against LGBT persons and others.
The letter was written by Lipper with assistance from AU Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser, and Madison Fellows Zachary A. Dietert and Natacha Y. Lam. (Lam is admitted in New York only, and is supervised by Lipper.)