Williamson County began issuing same-sex marriage licenses June 29 after initially holding off from doing so June 26.
The county clerk’s office issued 21 marriage licenses by the end of the day, including four for same-sex couples, according to the county Public Affairs Manager Connie Watson.
While some Texas counties began issuing same-sex marriage licenses immediately following the 5-4 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage legal throughout the county, the Williamson County Clerk Nancy Rister waited to receive legal advice on how to proceed, according a statement from Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs.
The release referenced a written letter by Attorney General Ken Paxton Sunday that stated county clerks, judges and justices of the peace with religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses may refuse, though they may face fines or lawsuits.
In his letter, Hobbs wrote while First Amendment freedoms must be protected for individuals, government officials have taken oaths of office to uphold the laws of Texas and the United States without reservation.
“It has been suggested to me that as a man of faith I should try and block the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses. I believe as a man of faith I am obligated to follow the oath of office I took when sworn in as County Attorney. This is the oath in which I swore to God I would follow the laws of the land as prescribed,” Hobbs wrote. “The current law of the land as prescribed by the United States Supreme Court is that the right to marry is a fundamental right that same-sex couples may not be deprived of exercising.”
Hobbs said he is awaiting clarification on how religious rights will be protected in light of the Supreme Court ruling, but said right now the county must act in accordance with the current law.
While the county attorney has no authority over the county clerk, Hobbs said Rister had requested legal direction on whether or not to issue same-sex marriage licenses pursuant to the Supreme Court decision. The clerk’s office began issuing licenses Monday morning using paper application forms from the state, Watson said.