Jun 302015

An excellent editorial published in yesterday’s Dallas Morning News. It is worth the couple of minutes it will take you to read it.

Public servants’ religious beliefs do not trump same-sex couples’ rights

No one should deny government employees’ right to exercise religious freedom in their personal affairs, but there must be no ambiguity regarding their official responsibilities. They are constitutionally bound to uphold rights and provide government services without discrimination.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Friday that same-sex couples have equal rights to marry. Top Texas leaders must stop standing in the way by encouraging government employees to invoke a personal religious exception when asked to provide marriage-related services, such as issuing licenses or officiating at civil ceremonies.

Denton County Clerk Juli Luke struck the right tone regarding Friday’s ruling by stating, “Personally, same-sex marriage is in contradiction to my faith and belief. … However, first and foremost, I took an oath on my family Bible to uphold the law, and as an elected public official, my personal belief cannot prevent me from issuing the licenses as required.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opened the door for judges, county clerks and other government employees to defy the ruling with an opinion Sunday that they may refuse to perform their official duties based on personal religious objections to same-sex marriage.

The opinion attempts to pit government employees’ First Amendment right to religious freedom against a Supreme Court ruling mandating the equal treatment of same-sex couples under the law. But this isn’t about personal religious freedoms; it’s about public servants’ duties under the Constitution.

Fortunately, it appears most Texas county clerks are honoring the Supreme Court’s ruling. However, a handful of clerks are raising religious objections and refusing to grant same-sex marriage licenses. The effect of the attorney general’s opinion was to sow confusion where clarity should reign: Same-sex marriage is now a constitutional right.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who requested Paxton’s opinion, appears to be among those misinterpreting the legal latitude of public servants. “No public employee, judge or justice of the peace should be forced to participate in activity contrary to the covenants of their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Patrick said.

State employees do not have discretion to selectively embrace the constitutional protections they agree with while rejecting those they object to, even on religious grounds. Constitutionally, governments — including their employees — must present themselves as religiously neutral.

Paxton suggested in his opinion that same-sex couples have ample options to go elsewhere should an employee refuse services on religious grounds. But it’s not the couple’s job to shop around for services from employees whose salaries are paid with tax dollars.

The exercise of free religious belief ends at government employees’ office doors. Texas leaders gain nothing by introducing confusion and erecting discriminatory loopholes now that the Supreme Court has made clear where it stands. Same-sex marriage is indisputably the law of the land.

Read that again. Carefully. “State employees do not have discretion to selectively embrace the constitutional protections they agree with while rejecting those they object to, even on religious grounds.”

Any government employee who refuses to perform his or her duties should be summarily dismissed. Period. End of discussion.