July 1, 2015
Contact: Robert Soard
First Assistant County Attorney
Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan today issued a legal opinion stating that if a judge or justice of the peace performs marriages, he or she must also perform them for same-sex couples.
“It’s all or nothing,” Ryan said. “Judges and JPs are not required to perform marriages. However, if they perform marriages for anyone, they cannot legally discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to perform only those marriages. Everyone must be treated the same under the law.”
Ryan also addressed the issue of the county clerk or deputy clerks having a religious objection to issuing a marriage license to a same-sex couple. The County Attorney’s opinion is that a clerk without objections must be found to issue a license to a same-sex couple. However, if no other such employees are available, then the clerk is required by law to perform the duty of issuing the marriage license despite the objections.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has said that the right to marry is a fundamental right protected by the U.S. Constitution and that it applies equally to all couples who seek to marry,” Ryan said. “The right to marry is also derived from the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. Bottom line: same-sex couples are equal under the law and that is now the law of the land.”
When the U.S. Supreme Court decision came down on Friday, Ryan issued a memo advising the Harris County Clerk’s Office that, under the law, marriage licenses must be issued to same-sex couples. The Clerk’s Office began issuing marriage licenses to all qualified applicants that afternoon.