Proposal would get Texas government out of marriage license business

Many county clerks across Texas have begun issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite instructions from the state attorney general that they could refuse to do so if it violates their religious beliefs. Meanwhile one lawmaker is proposing the state get out of the marriage business altogether.

Counties in more liberal areas of the fiercely conservative state began sanctioning same-sex weddings within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Friday legalizing gay marriage nationwide and wiping out a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution banning it.

Some counties originally reported holding off to wait for updated paperwork or further state instructions. But many of those announced they would issue gay marriage licenses beginning Monday, including Harris County, the state's largest and where Houston is located.

That about-face comes despite a weekend opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who wrote that "county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms," including objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. He suggested that officials who defy the Supreme Court order could face fines or lawsuits -- but said private attorneys were ready to defend them, and even do so for free.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas also set up a statewide hotline and asked gay couples to call if they were denied marriage licenses. Once statewide vital statistics forms had been modified in conjunction with the legalization of same-sex marriages, the group said had received no major complaints, according to Rebecca Robertson, its legal and policy director.

State Rep. David Simpson of Longview on Monday called for Gov. Greg Abbott to bring lawmakers back to Austin for a special session on same-sex marriage.

"I think a special session to end the state's involvement in marriage business is a good thing," Simpson said. "Allow clergy to issue the license and to do it voluntarily."

Simpson's proposal would have clergy and notary public's handling marriage licenses.

Jim Obergefell of Ohio, a named plaintiff in Friday's Supreme Court ruling, wore an American flag lapel pin as he participated in a rally Monday at the Texas Capitol and in Downtown Dallas. He said was "disgusted" by Paxton's opinion.

"I'm disappointed, disheartened and it angers me that they are creating a situation that doesn't exist by saying that this ruling forces any religious person to go against their beliefs," Obergefell said.

The rallies also discussed gaining protections for LGBT citizens in Texas, which currently doesn't have rules prohibiting job and housing discrimination against gay people.