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interracial marriage

Here come the lawyers

I don’t see how the squadron of anti-equality attorneys has a case in the wake of Obergfell, but they’re gonna try their best to muck things up anyway.

RedEquality

Now, conservative attorneys are gearing up to defend [government employees who refuse to recognize gay marriage because of religious objections], saying they are confident existing laws will ensure their religious freedom. But the legal arguments they are likely to make are complex, legal experts say, and could test the courts’ capacity to balance gay rights and religious freedom.

As indicated in Paxton’s opinion, there are no blanket protections for county clerks and other government employees who reject same-sex marriage in their official capacity. Instead, the strength of religious claims are considered on a case by case basis.

County clerks, for example, must prove they are refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses because doing so would violate a “sincerely held religious belief” — a legal standard courts are accustomed to considering, said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at the Plano-based Liberty Institute, which specializes in religious freedom litigation.

Conservative attorneys suggest these cases can be resolved by guaranteeing that the government official is offered a “reasonable accommodation.” In cases of a county clerk refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds, that task could be delegated to a deputy clerk or another qualified staff member who has no objections, said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the conservative Liberty Counsel, a national nonprofit that offers pro bono legal assistance on religious freedom issues.

“What’s happening is that you’re allowing individuals to participate in the change that occurred by the Supreme Court on Friday and you’re allowing individuals who have a religious objection to be able to have that religious objection,” Dys said.

Gay rights attorneys and civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union agree that there is room for religious accommodations for government officials — so long as those accommodations do not discriminate against specific groups, like same-sex couples, by intentionally burdening them.

There is a distinction between a county clerk’s freedom to express religious beliefs and the freedom to impose those beliefs on others in “the execution of their duties,” said Justin Nichols, a San Antonio-based attorney who focuses on gay and lesbian-related legal matters.

He added that reasonable accommodations for county clerks who object to issuing same-sex marriage licenses must ensure that same-sex couples still have the ability to obtain a license in their county without delay and aren’t required to travel to another county to exercise their constitutional rights.

“That’s like saying you can always get a public school education that’s not segregated if you just go to another county,” Nichols said.

Religious freedom hawks and gay rights activists are also at odds about the rights of judges and justices of the peace to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

In his opinion, Paxton wrote that so long as other individuals authorized to perform same-sex ceremonies are willing to conduct them, judges and justices of the peace can refuse on religious grounds; they are not outright preventing a same-sex couple from participating in a ceremony.

But others asserted that the risk of litigation for judges and justices of the peace lies in picking and choosing between performing marriage ceremonies for heterosexual couples and same-sex couples.

“A judge or justice of the peace is authorized to perform a marriage but is under no obligation to do so,” Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan, a Democrat, wrote in a memo Wednesday to the county clerk, local judges and justices of the peace. “However, once the judge elects to undertake the performance of marriages, the service must be offered to all (including same-sex couples) in a non-discriminatory manner.”

You can see a copy of Ryan’s opinion on judges and JPs here. Ryan is an unsung hero here in Harris County. Unlike a lot of County Clerks who apparently had their heads in the sand, Ryan was ready for the SCOTUS ruling and had an opinion on what it meant for the Harris County Clerk ready to go the same day. There’s no way Stan Stanart would have issued a same-sex marriage license that Friday if Ryan hadn’t forced his hand. Keep that in mind when he’s up for re-election next year.

As far as the religious objections of County Clerks and their employees go, I say public officials and employees are there to serve the public – all of the public, not just the public they approve of. If there’s someone in a County Clerk’s office that can’t bear the idea of issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple, then they need to find another job. If the county in question can accommodate them by placing them somewhere else – Stanart brought up the example of an employee who was moved elsewhere because she objected to issuing liquor licenses – that’s fine, but if not, then they are welcome to look elsewhere. “Reasonable accommodation” does not mean “any and all possible accommodation”. If you can’t perform your job duties, someone else will.

What worries me is the possibility that the Fifth Circuit, being the giant bag of suck that it is, may decide that if it’s not an “undue burden” for a woman to have to travel to another state to get an abortion, it’s no biggie for a gay couple to go a county or two over to get hitched. I mean, as long as Travis County exists you can still get your license, right? I know, the SCOTUS decision in Obergfell didn’t allow for any such consideration, but then Roe v. Wade was a pretty clear ruling too, and look where we are now. My point is, these guys are going to make some form of argument that as long as this right is available somewhere, it doesn’t have to be available everywhere, and I fear some idiot judge will buy it.

The problem is that the standard of religious beliefs being “sincerely held” is unsustainable, as the various guerrilla actions by the Satanic Temple should make clear. If that’s all it takes, then anyone can carve out any exception for themselves as long as they believe in it hard enough. Lots of people used to “sincerely believe” that God intended the races to be separate and thus interracial marriage should be illegal because the Bible said so, no matter how much the current batch of Pharisees insists that this is totally different. The Bible will always say what people like that want it to say. That should not give them any special rights as a result.

The last time Texas was in the minority on a marriage issue

Those who forget the lessons of history are likely to get an unfavorable SCOTUS ruling crammed down their throats.

RedEquality

As the U.S. Supreme Court takes up the issue of same-sex marriage, Texas once again finds itself on the lonely side of a court fight involving the right to marry.

Almost 50 years ago, Texas was among 16 states that still banned interracial marriage — until a unanimous Supreme Court struck down those laws for violating the Constitution’s promise of equal and fair treatment under the law.

[…]

With gay marriage legal in 36 states — 25 by court order, 11 via voters or legislators and Alabama still to be decided — the court has cover to act “because this is the way history is going,” said Sanford Levinson, a University of Texas law professor.

“But it’s not merely that. You look at the polls today, the cultural conservatives have simply lost. The younger the people are, the more they support (gay marriage), and the more obvious it is we live in a different country from the one we did only 15 years ago,” Levinson said.

The situation was a bit different in 1967, when the court ruled on the case of Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and a black and American Indian woman who were given one-year prison sentences — suspended if they stayed out of Virginia for 25 years — for marrying.

At the time, polls showed most Americans opposed interracial marriage, but 14 states had repealed bans in the previous 20 years — a trend that reinforced the high court’s willingness to attack racial segregation under Chief Justice Earl Warren.

The Warren court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia not only voided a Texas law that punished “any white person and negro” who married with two to five years in prison, it continues to cast a long shadow over today’s fight over gay marriage.

When U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia overturned the Texas ban on same-sex marriage last February, he quoted extensively from the Loving decision.

Same-sex couples, Garcia wrote, “seek to exercise the right to marry the partner of their choosing, just as the plaintiffs in Loving did, despite the state’s purported moral disdain for their choice of partner.”

And, just like laws banning interracial marriage, same-sex prohibitions subject gay couples to unequal and unfair treatment, he said.

Which the state totally, totally denies, because telling gay people who they can and cannot marry is completely different than telling black people (and white people!) who they can and cannot marry. It’s obvious, right? I’ve said multiple times that the state’s arguments all along have been bizarre and lame, and that continues to be true. Sometimes I wish I could fast-forward a couple of decades just to get a peek at what society will think about these stupid arguments we’re having now. On the one hand, the arc of public opinion is clear, and it’s easy to imagine that the America of, say, 2040 will have no idea what the fuss was about. On the other hand, I look at some of the issues that seemed to be settled forty and fifty years ago that are being re-fought now, and I wonder if anything is ever truly decided. But all in all, whatever our future selves this of us now, I know I’ll be happy to say what side I was on.

On Greg Abbott and who gets to get married

As you may have heard, Peggy Fikac got to ask Greg Abbott the obvious question about how exactly the state’s law against same-sex marriage, which Abbott is diligently defending in court, differs from the old laws that once banned interracial marriage, and would he have defended those as well since he claims he’s just doing his job as the state’s lawyer.

RedEquality

It didn’t take Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott any time at all to decide that not answering that question was the best course during a meeting with the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

“Right now, if there was a ban on interracial marriage, that’s already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott pointed out. “And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me … The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down.”

When I said I wasn’t clear if he was saying he would have defended a ban on interracial marriage, he said, “Actually, the reason why you’re uncertain about it is because I didn’t answer the question. And I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.”

Asked about the similarities some see between the ban on gay marriage and past prohibitions on interracial marriage, Abbott said, “Well, the Supreme Court has disagreed with that” by holding that sexual orientation isn’t due protected-class status in the way that race is.

[…]

“What kind of state would we live in if the public policies of this state were allowed to be determined by the attorney general? The attorney general would have a super veto over the elected representatives, and that would be a chaotic form of government, contrary to our fundamental constitutional principles,” he said. “It would be way beyond the separation of powers. It would be a dictatorship… by the attorney general.

“Believe me, I would love it,” he added, “The state would look a whole lot more like me right now if I did abandon my role and exercised my magic wand and decided what cases I would defend and which I didn’t, and therefore allowed me to dictate policy in this state.

“But I think that by doing what I do, I am maintaining the policy that I think is appropriate, and that is for each elected official to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this broke the Internet as people around the globe reacted with gasps, guffaws, facepalms, and sputtering outrage. The Wendy Davis campaign was swift to jump all over this. One reason for the outpouring was the basic fact that Abbott’s answer was, in a word, a crock. The DMN points out one problem with it:

Other attorneys general, citing their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, have refused to defend certain policies, laws and judgments.

John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, as attorney general voluntarily dropped an appeal of a death penalty case and sought a new punishment hearing. He determined he could not defend the punishment meted out to a black defendant after the state presented an expert witness who had testified that blacks are more inclined to violence.

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, a Democrat, refused to defend a state law that criminalized homosexual conduct. He dropped the appeal of that law.

In other words, previous attorneys general have felt free to follow their conscience when they thought that the situation merited it. The Observer cites an example of Abbott’s folly by sticking to his mantra.

But while the Attorney General may have to mount some kind of defense of the state, he has “a tremendous amount of discretion” over how aggressively to prosecute those cases, how “effectively” to prosecute cases, and which cases to bring to court. Abbott has been using his stint as AG to campaign for governor for years—he’s brought failed case after failed case against the federal government, costing Texas taxpayers millions. But his hands are tied when it comes to gay marriage and school finance, he insists. He has to aggressively defend bad laws to the last.

Abbott’s tenure has included a number of instances in which he pursued comically bizarre legal arguments in cases for which he could have no reasonable hope of victory—seemingly forfeiting his powers of discretion. In 2008, Abbott chose to defend the state’s ban on the sale of sex toys, a case that emerged from the fallout of Lawrence v. Texas. Over the years, Abbott has deployed novel legal arguments against gay marriage. But this wasn’t a case about gay marriage, a subject that still animates sincere moral disagreements. This was a case about every American’s god-given right to buy dildos.

At the time, anti-sex toy laws were widely understood to be unconstitutional, but Abbott suited up for battle. The state, his lieutenants argued with straight faces before the 5th Circuit, had an interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation.” The state of Texas has a pressing interest, Abbott said, in discouraging you from masturbating or blowing your boyfriend. That was just six years ago.

By the way, the law that criminalized gay sex, which was the basis of the Lawrence v. Texas case, is still on the books in Texas, as our Republican-dominated Legislature has not seen fit to repeal it. If the Legislature instead decided to amend that law by offering reparative therapy as an alternate sentencing option for defendants – an action that would clearly be unconstitutional on its face but would nevertheless represent the will of his client – would he feel compelled to defend that?

I know, I know, that’s another hypothetical, and Greg Abbott doesn’t do hypotheticals. So let me ask this instead: Can Greg Abbott name one instance in his time as Attorney General when he had to defend a law or regulation that he didn’t support or approve of? Putting aside the obvious discretion he has used in deciding what lawsuits to file and what defendants to file them against, can he cite an example of a law he didn’t like but had to defend? I kind of suspect the answer to that is “no”. Maybe that’s not fair to him – maybe the opportunity just never arose – but regardless, it would put his “just doing my job” claim into some perspective. It’s a lot easier to just do your job when your job involves doing things you like and want to do. It’s a little different when you do something with the same vigor and diligence for a cause you wouldn’t have chosen to support but are compelled to because it’s your job. BOR and Lone Star Q have more.