Texas Justice Faces Supreme Court Over Refusal to Marry Same-Sex Couples
Judge Dianne Hensley's Stance on Religious Grounds Sparks Nationwide Discussion
In a pivotal move, Texas justice Dianne Hensley has taken her stance against officiating same-sex marriages to the state’s Supreme Court, provoking a nationwide dialogue.
Dianne Hensley, a recognized justice of the peace in Texas, faced a public warning in 2019 from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. This warning was issued due to her decision not to officiate same-sex weddings, based on her religious convictions, as per The Texas Tribune.
The State Commission expressed concerns over Judge Hensley’s capability to maintain impartiality, particularly towards individuals based on their sexual orientation.
Rather than challenging this warning through an appeal, Hensley took an assertive step. She filed a lawsuit against the Commission, emphasizing that her rights to religious freedom were infringed upon.
Two previous court instances, including a trial court and the Court of Appeals last year, did not favor Hensley’s arguments. Both ruled in favor of the State Commission, emphasizing Texas’s religious freedom law parameters.
While every US state since 2015 is mandated to recognize and license same-sex marriages, Texas justices of the peace are not bound to officiate any marriage ceremonies.
During the recent hearing on 25 October, the Texas Supreme Court delved into both sides of the argument. Key questions raised revolved around Hensley’s decision to directly sue the State Commission instead of addressing the original warning.
Representing Hensley, attorney Jonathan Mitchell clarified that the lawsuit’s intention wasn’t to challenge the warning. Instead, Hensley aims for broader relief, permitting any justice of the peace to choose whether to officiate same-sex weddings based on personal beliefs.
Countering this, the State Commission asserted that the warning did not inhibit Hensley’s religious practices. Rather, they argued, she appeared to be advocating for a “license to discriminate.”
Douglas Lang, representing the commission, pointed out that their preference leans towards justices not officiating weddings if they opt to discriminate. He emphasized Hensley’s explicit decision to publicly communicate her refusal to officiate same-sex weddings rooted in her Christian convictions. This decision became a significant element of her 2019 warning.
Hensley’s legal representation also shed light on her reduced income from not conducting wedding ceremonies post-warning. This, they argued, imposed a strain on her religious freedom. Nonetheless, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht countered, emphasizing the inherent financial trade-offs when assuming a judicial position.
The case, given its intricate nature, is anticipated to require an extensive evaluation period, likely extending over two months, before a decision is reached, as noted by the Waco Tribune.