Governors and state officials say the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling is pushing states to focus on religious liberty issues now that they must allow same-sex marriage across the country. All governors in the 14 states previously banning same-sex marriages said they were disappointed in the ruling issued last week, but that they would respect the law.
One of the staunchest opponents of same-sex marriage is Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore. He said the case before the U.S. Supreme Court was not a civil rights issue and the judges voted purely on emotional grounds. “I think it’s a dangerous time for our country. I think it’s a dangerous time for religious liberty,” Moore said.
In recent years, several states have danced with the idea of religious liberty bills. The bills were brought about because of gay couples suing religious businesses that refused to service their weddings. Those cases were in states that already allowed gay marriage. Many states put the bills on hold because gay unions were not legal in those states. Arizona’s governor vetoed a bill after opponents lobbied in protest. Gov. Jan Brewer said the bill was not needed in Arizona because no lawsuits had been filed there.
Georgia also began considering a religious freedom bill during its last session, but the bill remained in committee. It is expected to come to the forefront when the Georgia General Assembly gathers next January. Attorney General Sam Olens said the state will obey the latest court ruling. Indiana approved a bill, but Gov. Mike Pence backtracked after signing the bill amidst threats of boycotts from businesses around the country and public smears at the state.
Some states, like Florida, reacted to earlier court rulings forcing the state to recognize gay marriage. Memos went out after those court rulings reminding local probate courts that, under the state constitution, the courts do not have to perform any wedding ceremonies. Some local courts opted to stop performing weddings altogether. In North Carolina, religious probate court judges decided to resign rather than perform gay weddings. Six North Carolina magistrate judges resigned in 2014. State legislators from South Carolina began considering a religious freedom bill after resignations hit their neighbor state.
One of the most significant responses on the court’s ruling came from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott said he will make it his mission to protect religious liberties of all Texans. “As I have done in the past, I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans — including those whose conscience dictates that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman,” Abbott said in a statement. The exact steps states will use to focus on religious liberty since the marriage ruling are not clear.
Texas has put issuing marriage licenses to gay people on hold and no applications were being considered in Lubbock this week, according to reports. The Lubbock County Clerk’s office said waiting on legal advice before they deny or grant any licenses, according to officials.
Abbott believes the court’s ruling will override religious liberties and violates First Amendment rights. Richard D. Rosen, a Texas Tech School of Law professor, said the only time a religious belief would be violated is in the case of wedding vendors not wanting to provide services for a same-sex couple.
It will take a couple of legislative terms, but the marriage ruling is pushing states to focus on religious liberty issues to make sure everyone can live with the court’s same-sex ruling. The issue will also likely be a campaign issue for the 2016 presidential election.
By Melody Dareing
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Photo Courtesy of Wally Gobetz’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License