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Irion County

Let the clerks out of it

I approve of this.

The state’s leading LGBT advocacy group has thrown its support behind a bill that would accommodate county clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Under Senate Bill 911, by state Senator Joan Huffman, R-Sugar Land, marriage licenses in Texas would no longer specify the names of clerks who issue them, instead listing only the counties where they’re obtained.

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said though he hasn’t spoken with anyone from Huffman’s office about SB 911, his group is supporting the bill as “a simple solution.”

“If there are county clerks who want to make a stink, then this proposed legislation cuts their feet off,” Smith said. “Your name isn’t on it [the license]. Nobody would know. Do your job.”

[…]

SB 911 is one of at least four proposals in the 85th Legislature dealing with county clerks and marriage licenses. Others would allow clerks to opt out of issuing licenses to same-sex couples altogether, in some cases forcing them to travel to adjacent counties, which experts say would run afoul of the Obergefell decision.

“The delivery of the service, the access to a license, has to be the same for all people, and if that can be accomplished, we are supportive of that,” Smith said. “I would suggest that [SB 911] is the solution to eliminate any of the other proposed legislation related to county clerks or related to marriage licenses that we would oppose.”

The story notes the Hood County saga, and quotes the Irion County Clerk, who allows that this might satisfy the objections of people like her. I personally don’t think that County Clerks should need to be accommodated in this way since none of this is about them, but whatever. If something as simple as this will get the complainers to knock it off, then I’m all for it.

Rusk County Clerk sets an example

I respect this.

RedEquality

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.

There will be more lawsuits

The lawsuit filed in Hood County to force County Clerk Katie Lang to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple won’t be the last one like it.

RedEquality

“We hope and expect that county clerks across Texas and the country will take a look at what happened [in Hood County] and do the right thing and follow the U.S. Constitution,” said Austin Kaplan, an Austin attorney who represents a Granbury gay couple who obtained a marriage license on Monday after filing a lawsuit against the Hood County Clerk’s office in federal court.

The Granbury couple, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, have said they will move forward with their lawsuit until the county clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples. Kaplan said they have not heard from Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, and her office would not say whether it is issuing same-sex licenses.

With a population of 53,921 people, Hood County is the most populous county among those still refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Texas counties’ responses to the Supreme Court’s ruling varied between those that immediately began issuing marriage licenses and those that took a few days to come around. But two weeks after the high court’s ruling, at least six counties are likely refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, according to Texans for Marriage.

The other holdout counties as of July 7 were Dallam and Roberts counties in the Panhandle; Irion, Hartley and Loving counties in West Texas; and Hamilton County, located between Austin and Fort Worth.

(Of Texas’ 254 counties, three counties have not been reached and 13 counties are planning to issue marriage licenses after “software changes” or receipt of updated marriage certificates, according to Texans for Marriage.)

On Thursday, a deputy clerk in Roberts County told The Texas Tribune that the clerk’s office would issue licenses if requested by a same-sex couple.

Hartley County Clerk Melissa Mead said her office won’t issue same-sex marriage licenses until the clock runs out on the 25 days that parties in the Supreme Court case have to ask for a rehearing of the case.

A deputy clerk for Loving County said her office was awaiting further direction from the attorney general’s office. A spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the only guidance from the state’s top lawyer was the written opinion issued June 28, which said county clerks with religious objections can opt out of issuing same-sex marriage licenses but they should be prepared to get sued.

Calls to Dallam and Hamilton went unanswered.

See here and here for background on Hood County. Next in line appears to be Irion County, and after that who knows. Actually, what could happen is more lawsuits in the same places as before:

A judge’s ruling in the Hood County case would likely only apply to those parties in that county, said Alexandra Albright, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. If the case went to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals — which has appellate jurisdiction over federal courts in Texas — then any ruling would apply to the entire circuit, Albright added.

Now that the Hood County gay couple has obtained a marriage license, a federal judge may not immediately rule on the broader issue of whether the Hood County clerk’s delay “caused constitutional damage,” so other same-sex couples would likely have to file their own lawsuits, said Meg Penrose, a law professor at Texas A&M University.

“If this is not a class action, other individuals that are denied marriage licenses will need to sue on their own behalf or wait for a class action to be filed,” Penrose said. “This could become costly for the county [or] clerk as individual lawsuits could mount quickly.”

Kaplan, the attorney for the Hood County gay couple, said Texas lawyers were keeping an eye on “lawless clerks” and would likely take action if clerks continued to believe “there’s some justification for failing to issue the licenses.”

“We’ll see what happens when that comes to head,” he added.

One would think that repeated litigation over the same thing might make a recalcitrant County Clerk less popular. I understand that Katie Lang’s husband Mike is a candidate to succeed Jim Keffer in HD60, so this could quickly become an election issue. As the man said, we’ll see.

Prepare for your time in the spotlight, Irion County

It’s coming.

No same-sex couples have sought a marriage license in Irion County, but if or when they do the county clerk is willing to fight it in court.

County Clerk Molly Criner has vowed to stand for “natural marriage” and refuses to issue licenses to same-sex couples.

Liberty Counsel, an international nonprofit that says it is dedicated to advancing religious freedom, has offered pro bono counsel to represent Criner in court.

“The Justices of the Supreme Court acted outside and against the authority granted to them by the very Constitution that we have sworn to uphold,” Criner said in a news release issued by Liberty Counsel. “Our founding fathers were fearful of too much power in the hands of a few.”

Referring to the opinion of the five justices who voted to allow same-sex marriage last month, Criner said to keep her oath to uphold the Constitution, she must reject the court’s ruling, which she believes is “lawless.”

See here for the background. The Dallas Observer engages in a bit of mischief in response:

Just in case any of you guys are thinking about getting married this week and feel like making a ruckus, you can get to Mertzon, the Irion County seat, by taking Interstate 20 West to TX 206 South. The clerk’s office is at 209 N. Parkview St. After Crimer turns you down, head northeast on U.S. 67 to San Angelo and Irion County’s assigned U.S. District Court, where you can file your lawsuit at the O.C. Fisher Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse. The courthouse is located at 33 East Twohig Ave. Godspeed and please email us your photos.

I’d advise packing an overnight bag – it’s a long way from D/FW to Irion. Glen Maxey says on Facebook that a couple of plaintiffs have been identified and details will be forthcoming. I can’t wait. The AusChron has more.

And the battle moves to Irion County

“Where the heck is Irion County?” I hear you cry. Just the home of the next County Clerk that needs to be schooled on the Constitution, and not her dime store “understanding” of it.

The county clerk in tiny Irion County is standing firm on her decision to not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, outlining her opposition in a “declaration of obedience to law and defense of natural marriage.

Molly Criner, clerk in the West Texas county, wrote her response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent gay-marriage ruling on Saturday – July 4. In it, she quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., referenced Thomas Jefferson and cited the court’s Dred Scott decision.

“I … shall resist unlawful federal or state court encroachments upon the prerogative of the people of Texas to protect natural marriage, and shall only issue marriage licenses consistent with Texas law, so help me God,” she wrote in her conclusion.

The “declaration” was released on Monday by the Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based nonprofit firm that focuses on religious issues. The group – which has ties to Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell – is providing pro bono counsel to Criner.

“Like Molly, each of us should vow not to be intimidated but, instead, to stand united for our God-given liberties and the rule of law,” Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel’s founder, said in a news release.

[…]

It’s unclear how that situation might play out in Irion County, population 1,573.

I’ll get to that in a minute. I doubt there’s much to be learned from her screed, but it’s reprinted on Glen Maxey’s Facebook wall if you don’t want to get cooties from clicking that Liberty U link. You may note that Glen writes they are looking for some plaintiffs in that post, so you can probably guess how this will likely play out. Hood County, despite all of its County Clerk’s bluster, folded like a cheap suit once the lawsuit was filed. The main complication I see here is that there may literally be no one in Irion County to apply for a marriage license and get rejected; if a couple has to be imported to do this, I don’t know if that changes anything, legally speaking. If it does, then this standoff could last for awhile, but in the end someone will explain to Ms. Criner, using small words, that the Constitution doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. Some lessons just have to be learned the hard way. WOAI has more.

In related news from the ranks of the dangerously ignorant, Texas’ gay-hatingest legislator, Rep. Cecil Bell, did some more stupid things to ensure that his name will go down in the history books for all the wrong reasons. You can read the story for yourself – I’m certain this will be a campaign issue in March, and I fully expect that a barrage of hateful bills will be filed in 2017, but for now it’s a bunch of hot air. Remember what’s being said now and make sure you do everything you can to mitigate against it in 2016.