Legal Experts Say Republican Justice of the Peace's Policy Violates Law
A Republican justice of the peace in Dallas County, Texas, is refusing to perform marriages for same-sex couples based on his religious beliefs, in what appears to be a blatant violation of the law.
"As I said back in June of last year, because of my faith in God as a devout Catholic, I will be only be conducting traditional marriages," Bill Metzger wrote on his Facebook page this week. Metzger cited an opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton that he says "came as a result of a request from Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick."
"As such, it is not true for someone to say they are required by law to conduct a non-traditional wedding," Metzger claims.
In that opinion, Paxton concluded judges and justices of the peace "may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex marriage 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," Paxton wrote.
However, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan issued an opinion addressing the same issue and concluded: "A judge or justice of the peace is authorized to perform a marriage but is under no obligation to do so. However, once the judge elects to undertake the performance of marriages, the service must be offered to all (including same-sex couples) in a non-discriminatory manner."
Attorney Cece Cox, executive director of Dallas' LGBT community center, agreed with Ryan.
"If he chooses not to marry a gay couple, he’ll be in violation of the law," Cox told WFAA-TV.
Added retired Dallas County District Judge John Creuzot, a Democrat and longtime LGBT ally:
"He’s not on solid legal footing, either by the laws of the state of Texas, or the Constitution. If I do marriages, I either do none or all. ... It’s a bad signal to be a judge, even if it is a justice of the peace, and then make an independent decision that you’re going to follow the law for some folks and not for others."
In order for Metzler's policy to be declared illegal, someone will have to challenge it. If you're a same-sex couple interested in doing so, contact his office by going here. If he turns you down, call attorney Austin Kaplan at 512-553-9390, or Jan Soifer at 512-583-0451. They're the civil rights attorneys who sued the clerk in Hood County, Texas, when she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, eventually winning a $43,000 settlement.
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