Senate bill seeks to ensure equal marriage license access

Photo credit: Liesje Powers

By Rylee Seavers | Staff Writer

Texas Senate Bill 522 was passed by the Texas Senate on April 12. The bill ensured equal access to marriage licenses for all couples and allows county clerks to delegate the issuance of a marriage license to a deputy clerk, judge, magistrate or certifying official if they have notified the commissioners court of a “sincerely held religious belief” in writing.

The bill was passed with bipartisan support, according to a press release, and was co-authored by one Democratic and four Republican Texas Senators.

The bill states that if there are not enough authorized people in a county willing to issue marriage licenses, the commissioner’s court will designate one or more county employees or contract an outside person who does not work for the county to issue the licenses. A person, other than a county clerk, who has the authority to issue marriage licenses, complete paperwork or administer oaths is designated as a “certifying official.”

Under SB 522, an authorized person who refuses to issue a marriage license cannot be subject to penalty unless they are objecting for a prohibited reason, which includes race, religion or national origin. SB 522 also amends the Family Code to include the phrase “certifying official.”

“In recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry in light of the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, Birdwell’s legislation provides clerks and judges specified, statutory authority under the protections afforded by Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution, which guarantees that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office’ and that no one can ‘be excluded from holding office on account of [their] religious sentiments,’” the press release states.

Carmen Saenz, director of InterWaco-LGBTQ, said that for her, this issue comes down to separation of church and state. She believes there is a problem whenever someone brings their religious convictions into a job that serves a public office.

“If you choose to work for the county, then you are obligated to treat everyone the same, period, and follow the law,” Saenz said.

Saenz said she believes SB 522 promotes taxpayer funded discrimination and does not ensure equal treatment under the law. She said when a person holds a job that is funded by the people, they need to represent all the people.

“I have a problem with a government entity using their religious conviction to take away the rights of anybody,” Saenz said.

Longview senior Marivious Allen, co-chair of Baylor College Republicans and vice-chair of the Texas Federation of College Republicans, said he supports the bill because he believes that it upholds the constitution and ensures religious freedom.

Allen said he does not believe that SB 522 creates an issue with separation of church and state, and there needs to be a wall of separation between church and state to ensure that certain religious beliefs are not imposed on others.

“We are citizens of the state first, and church is just part of our salvation,” Allen said.

The bill has been sent to the Texas House of Representatives, and no date has been set for public hearing.