The Rusk County Commissioners Court on Monday formally accepted the resignation of County Clerk Joyce Lewis-Kugle, apparently the first Texas elected official to quit office rather than abide by the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.
“Before taking office, I was required to take an oath to uphold the laws of this State and the United States,” Lewis-Kugle, elected in 2006, wrote in her resignation letter to County Judge Joel Hale last week. “Due to the recent decision by the Supreme Court, the laws I swore to have now changed.”
Trudy McGill, who served as Lewis-Kugle’s chief deputy, was sworn in Monday to replace her, and has the option of running for election in March.
After waiting to receive new forms from the State Registrar’s office following the Supreme Court decision, the county is now ready to issue licenses to same-sex couples, although an employee in the clerk’s office said Monday that no one had applied for one yet.
That’s how it should be. If you swear an oath to uphold the law, then decide you cannot do so, you should step down and let someone else do it. The large majority of Texas’ County Clerks have decided that they can in fact uphold the law post-Obergfell, but for those who decide otherwise, Ms. Lewis-Kugle has demonstrated what the correct thing to do is. Kudos to her for that.
Meanwhile, here’s a fascinating story about one of those clerks that isn’t doing the correct thing.
In Irion County, not all sentiments are so colorful, but the people have had plenty to talk about since the County Clerk there, Molly Criner, declared that neither she nor her office will be issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that extends those rights to all US citizens within her borders.
Two women walked into the Irion County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday, greeted the staff and requested a marriage license. The clerks, seated behind desks in the open office space beyond the short counter, exchanged nervous glances.
“We,” the blonde one paused contemplatively, “will let you talk to our clerk, Molly Criner. She’s not in right now, but we will giver her a call and she can come in. In the meantime, y’all can wait here…or you can sit out in the hall. We have coffee, we have water, whatever you would like.”
With a smile on her voice, the clerk followed the two women out into the hall, eagerly explaining where to find the coffee and water at great length and offering to brew a new pot should they be in need of caffeine.
Criner, clad in a hot magenta knee-length skirt, white long-sleeve shirt and brown hair flowing loosely around her shoulders, extended her hand as she walked in and asked for the women’s names.
“We just need a marriage license,” one of the women repeated.
“Ok,” Criner sighed, “well, I can’t do that. But the clerk’s office in San Angelo is only 25 miles [away] and they’d be happy to issue one. I just can’t.”
For minutes the dialogue continued, the women questioning Criner as to why she was refusing and whether she had the paperwork and authorization. She responded that she does have the paperwork and is authorized, but repeated that she “just can’t do it.”
Referencing her staff, all of whom she said have issued marriage licenses to heterosexual couples in the past, Criner explained that no same-sex certificates would be coming out of her office. “I have not delegated my authority to them to do it, so they don’t have a choice,” Criner said. “You know, we all believe very strongly in what we believe, and I admire you for that. I really highly recommend 25 miles down the road, where you can get a license in Tom Green County.”
Criner would not speculate as to what the legal repercussions her choice could have, or how she would respond to orders from the court. She also couldn’t say whether she’d remain in office or resign if the Supreme Court’s decision is signed into law. She did, however, admit that feedback within the community has been divided.
“I’ve heard both positive and negative comments from many people,” she said, later on in the conversation stating she’d “have to think about that” when asked what her feelings are with regards to those citizens of Irion County opposed to her decision.
I have no idea why Ms. Criner thinks the Supreme Court decision needs to be “signed into law”, nor whom she thinks would sign it. I have a sneaking suspicion that if the answer to the second question is “President Obama”, it won’t change her opinion of it. But mostly I wonder what she will think she she gets sued, and what the voters in Irion County will think when they get presented with a massive legal bill for her defense. There’s still time to avoid this, however. Rusk County offers one possible way, and nearly every other county in Texas offers another. Up to you, Ms. Criner. Paradise in Hell has more.
UPDATE: From the Observer, Live Oak County Clerk Karen Irving has decided to retire in order to avoid issuing same sex marriage licenses. Kudos to her as well. And to answer Michael’s question in the comments, County Clerks are elected in even-numbered years. Ours in Harris County was re-elected in 2014 and will be up again in 2018, by which time one hopes this will all be largely a non-issue.