A judge in Texas who refuses to marry same-sex couples has filed a lawsuit against the state agency that oversees judicial misconduct. It had the audacity to warn her to change her ways.
Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley works in Waco, McLellan County. A devout Christian, she has filed a class-action lawsuit to enable her, and others justices of the peace in the state, to decline to marry same-sex couples.
She is being backed by the First Liberty Institute, an organization that has helped others to fight to express their religious beliefs.
SCOTUS ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples could marry across the US. Some officiants and judges have stepped down from performing marriage ceremonies because they believe having to wed gay couples goes against their religious beliefs.
In Texas, officiating weddings is an optional duty for justices of the peace. Performing them can help those officiating to earn thousands of dollars in extra income.
Hensley has conducted over 300 wedding ceremonies since August 2016 – all for opposite-sex couples.
If her office was approached by any same-sex couples, they were given a document explaining her reasoning for declining and providing a list of others who could perform the ceremony.
News of Hensley’s opposition to marrying gay couples is not new. In 2017, she told local news station 25 News KXXV, “I have no desire to offend anybody, but the last person I want to offend is God.”
In the same year, she told the Waco Tribune-Herald of her belief that if another justice of the peace performs same-sex weddings in McLennan County, the couples’ constitutional rights are not being violated. As such, she believes she is acting within the law.
On December 2nd, the Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a warning to Hensley. It says her continued refusal to perform same-sex marriages cast, “doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.”
If Hensley continues to refuse, the commission can remove her from office.
Her reaction to the commission’s warning is to hit back with the legal action, saying its disciplinary action against her constituted a violation of her rights under the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
In an action filed yesterday at Waco’s 170th State District Court, Hensley is seeking $10,000 in damages and a ruling that the commission violated her religious rights.
She wants to be able to continue to refuse to marry same-sex couples and for others who feel the same to also be allowed to follow their conscience, reports Waco-Tribune Herald.
Hensley insists that anyone who wishes to get married in McLellan County can do so, and that referring same-sex couples to others lets her off the hook.
In a statement to KXXV, she said, “I sought a solution so that anyone in McLennan County who wants to get married can do so. I have, do, and always will follow the law.”
In a press statement about her civil action yesterday, she added: “For providing a solution to meet a need in my community while remaining faithful to my religious beliefs, I received a ‘public warning.’ No one should be punished for that.”