The Texas Supreme Court will review a case involving a Waco justice of the peace’s refusal to perform same-sex weddings.
McLennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley sued the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct after it issued a public warning against her in 2019 for refusing to perform weddings for same-sex couples, citing her religious views, while continuing to perform weddings for opposite-sex couples. Hensley requested April 10 that the Texas Supreme Court consider the matter after a district court in Travis County dismissed her lawsuit and an appeals court upheld the dismissal.
The Texas Supreme Court agreed Friday to grant the request for judicial review from Hensley. She has been the Precinct 1, Place 1 JP since 2014, and was unopposed last year in her most recent reelection bid.
In addition to Hensley’s attorney in Travis County, Jonathan Mitchell, three attorneys from the Plano-based First Liberty Institute joined the lawsuit, including deputy general counsel Justin Butterfield.
“Judge Hensley always followed the law,” Butterfield said in a statement Monday. “She sought to follow her religious beliefs and accommodate everyone, yet the government chose to punish her. We look forward to the Texas Supreme Court correcting this injustice.”
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct hears complaints against judges. It can take wide-ranging actions based on the severity of the complaints, including suspending a judge from office, requiring additional legal education or issuing private or public sanctions.
The commission is represented by a number of lawyers including Douglas Lang of Thompson Coburn LLP in Dallas.
“The Commission looks forward to the opportunity to present to the Supreme Court of Texas a discussion about the importance of the Commission’s work with Texas judges to assure all judges present themselves to the public according to the rule of law, independent of outside influences, including religion, and without regard to whether a law is popular or unpopular,” Lang said in a statement Monday.
After a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision established the constitutional right to same-sex marriage, Hensley initially stopped performing marriages altogether. She then resumed offering to perform weddings, generally at the courthouse and during business hours, but would turn away same-sex couples based on her views as a “Bible-believing” Christian, she told the Tribune-Herald in 2017. She said her office sometimes referred same-sex couples to others in the area who would marry them.
“Beginning on about Aug. 1, 2016, Judge Hensley and her court staff began giving all same-sex couples wishing to be married by Judge Hensley a document which stated, ‘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,’” according to the warning the judicial conduct commission issued in 2019.
The commission’s order says the warning was based on Hensley “casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.”
See here for the previous post. I’m done explaining this one, if you don’t get why she’s acting in a discriminatory fashion there’s not much I can say to you now. I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing.