BROWNSVILLE, RGV – A border senator says Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is acting irresponsibly in telling county clerks and justices of the peace that they do not have to adhere to last week’s Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

State Sen. José Rodríguez says Paxton “erred grievously” in giving them unsolicited advice that “may subject them to liability in both their individual and official capacity, and could result in their removal from office for failure to uphold the law.”

In an opinion offered over the weekend, Paxton said all Americans should be able to exercise their faith in their daily lives without infringement and harassment.

“County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case,” Paxton said. “Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

Rodríguez, who was born in Alice, Texas, and grew up in Alamo, Texas, countered:

“It is irresponsible of the state’s top attorney to characterize the U.S. Supreme Court as ‘lawless’ and to question whether the U.S. Supreme Court is the constitutionally-appointed final authority on questions of law in this country. The Attorney General has crossed the line in advising local public officials, who are not his clients, that they are not bound by the U.S. Constitution. He has erred grievously in giving them unsolicited advice that may subject them to liability in both their individual and official capacity, and could result in their removal from office for failure to uphold the law.

“Public officials, from county clerks to the Attorney General to the Governor, do not get to choose what laws they will follow and which ones they will not. If they can’t follow the law, including upholding the U.S. constitution in its entirety, and fulfill all of their official duties, then they should resign from elected office.

“The Attorney General twists the meaning of liberty when he uses it as a weapon to deprive certain people of their Constitutional rights. Let’s be clear – far-right conservatives do not own the definition of marriage nor do they speak for all religions. No church will be required to sanctify a marriage it does not approve of, but all elected public servants will be expected to follow the U.S. Constitution.

“It is irresponsible of the state’s top attorney to characterize the U.S. Supreme Court as “lawless” and to question whether the U.S. Supreme Court is the constitutionally-appointed final authority on questions of law in this country. The Attorney General has crossed the line in advising local public officials, who are not his clients, that they are not bound by the U.S. Constitution. He has erred grievously in giving them unsolicited advice that may subject them to liability in both their individual and official capacity, and could result in their removal from office for failure to uphold the law.”

In a news release accompanying his opinion, Paxton said:

“In the Attorney General’s opinion my office issued in response to Lt. Governor Patrick’s request for guidance, we find that although it fabricated a new constitutional right in 2015, the Supreme Court did not diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion that formed the first freedom in the Bill of Rights in 1791. This newly invented federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage should peaceably coexist alongside longstanding constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and speech. This opinion concludes that:

“County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.

“Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections, when other authorized individuals have no objection, because it is not the least restrictive means of the government ensuring the ceremonies occur. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case.”

“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.

“Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans, but most immediately do anything we can to help our County Clerks and public officials who now are forced with defending their religious beliefs against the Court’s ruling.”

To read Attorney General Paxton’s full opinion, click here. To read Attorney General Paxton’s earlier comments on this Supreme Court ruling, click here.

Bishop Gives His View

Daniel Flores, bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, told RGV Public Radio 88 FM that he was deeply troubled by the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriages.

“I think we need to recognize that we have a responsibility before the Lord to continue to teach and to witness to the truth and the beauty of marriage between a man and a woman, a lifelong commitment that is open to life and the raising of children and that is the truth we receive from the Lord and it is something that societies since the beginning of time have kind of attested to, as kind of a true nature of marriage and we just need to continue to teach that and teach that to our children and to kind of help to kind of support and defend the beauty of family life,” Flores said.

“The Supreme Court decision has a lot of effects legally and it changes the definition by law and that is a serious, serious, issue because it affects so many aspects of civil life but it doesn’t change the reality of what marriage is and that is what we have to witness to. I think it might be difficult, in the days to come for the Church to continue to give this witness but I would just ask everybody to not lose heart and certainly we want to express love and concern and compassion for everyone. But we have to speak to the truth about marriage and family life and that is what this is about for us.”

In a blog posting on the day of the Supreme Court ruling, Flores wrote:

“Marriage is the only institution in human society that unites a man and a woman together in a lifelong commitment. It provides the basis for the conceiving and raising of children. And it makes possible the stable development of the human family.  

“Today’s Supreme Court decision does not change the Church’s teaching on marriage as a natural institution in human society, nor does it affect our teaching that this unique human bond between a man and a woman was raised by the Lord Jesus to the level of a sacrament.

“What the Court decision does do, however, is deeply wound the fabric of human society by permitting in law the radical redefinition of marriage. It is alarming and arrogant that any government institution can claim the power to change the definition of such a basic human reality.

“The Church, with malice towards none, and in fidelity to the truth about human life, must remain faithful to, and teach the truth about marriage. We will continue to operate our teaching and charitable institutions in fidelity to the teaching of Sacred Scripture and the Church’s faith. And we expect the government to respect the free exercise of religious faith in this country. Our service to the truth is all the more urgent at this time.”

According to opinion polls, a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. However, a “people poll” conducted by KURV News Talk 710 showed a very different opinion. Via its website, KURV asked: “Do you favor the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states?” The response showed 98 percent oppose the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked Paxton for an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling. After it was issued, Patrick said: “On Thursday I made a request to Attorney General Ken Paxton for a legal opinion on how local elected officials would be impacted if the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage the law of the land. Today, I commend Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his quick and comprehensive opinion on the very important issue regarding protecting public employees’ rights. As I had hoped when I requested this opinion, General Paxton has affirmed that county clerks, judges and Justices of the Peace do in fact retain religious freedom to object. No public employee, judge or Justice of the Peace should be forced to participate in activity contrary to the covenants of their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Editors’ Note: In the main picture accompanying this story are: Bishop of Brownsville Daniel Flores, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, and state Senator José Rodríguez, D-El Paso. RGV Public Radio 88 FM reporter Mario Muñoz contributed to this story from Harlingen, Texas.