CONNIE SWINNEY • STAFF WRITER
LLANO — Llano County Judge Mary Cunningham says she won’t let her personal views about the federal government’s role in the marriage debate get in the way of the mandated duties of the county in issuing marriage licenses.
“I personally think it should still be a state issue. The states should have the right to decide,” Cunningham said.
On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that all jurisdictions must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, tipping off a firestorm of resistance from several states, including Texas, which had laws in place that defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
“The state has historically been in charge of family law issues, criminal law issues, probate law issues and education, and the federal government has not been involved, and it worked great for 200 years,” Cunningham said.
But she added that Llano County will follow the state’s instructions, based on the Supreme Court ruling.
“We’re not trying to force anyone to do anything they have an objection to,” she said. “We just want to follow the law and not lay our citizens open to paying a bunch of legal fees over lawsuits which could get filed and cost our taxpayers a bunch of money.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton described the Supreme Court decision as “flawed” and released a statement emphasizing the state’s position on protecting religious liberty of those who reject the marriage label applied to couples of the same gender.
“We should ensure that people and businesses are not discriminated against by state and local governments based on a person’s religious beliefs, including discrimination against people of faith in the distribution of grants, licenses, certification or accreditation; we should prevent harassing lawsuits against people of faith, their businesses and religious organizations,” Paxton stated June 26.
About a dozen counties in Texas began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the day of the ruling, while hundreds of others such as Llano County delayed the practice pending either direction and/or documents from the state.
“What we had gotten so far have been opinions instead of hard-fast instructions,” Cunningham said. “What the attorney general said was (telling) people they can use their religious views to do whatever they want to do. The problem is you can still get sued, and it would cost our county a lot of money.”
Burnet County Clerk Janet Parker said she would issue a marriage license to anyone regardless of gender “to everyone that meets the requirements or has the supporting documents for us to issue a marriage license.”
“I was given legal advice by my county attorney, and we’re complying with the law. The Supreme Court ruled that we will issue licenses to same-sex couples. We’re complying with that,” Parker added. “If they have proof of age and ID, and they’re over the age of 18, then we are issuing marriage license.”
Officials in both Burnet and Llano counties said they would not require personnel to participate in any process that violates their religious beliefs.
“We will accommodate that employee. I have seven employees in my office. We will accommodate my customers, and I will accommodate my staff,” Parker said.
Cunningham said, “I want (the staff) to have a policy that they follow, and if they don’t feel comfortable, certainly they shouldn’t be forced to do anything they’re not comfortable doing.”
On June 30, the Llano County Clerk’s office received new marriage license forms from the state that now omit questions about the genders of a couple as a prerequisite for eligibility.
“We’re just trying to follow the law as we know what the law to be at this point in time with the guidance from the state,” Cunningham said. “I don’t have the answer. I just don’t want anybody in this county getting sued by anybody or getting in trouble or feeling like they crossed the line.”