A Texas judge last week launched a class-action suit against the State Commission on Judicial Conduct. Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley launched the action after the commission publicly warned her for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. She claims protection under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
While the law does not compel justices of the peace in Texas to officiate at weddings, they may provide the optional service for a fee. Records show Hensley made $25,000 officiating at weddings since 2016.
Refusal to perform same-sex marriages
However, since that year, when couples approached her office to book same-sex marriages, they received a document declining the booking because of her religious beliefs. Only one other justice of the peace officiates at weddings in the local county. The other four stopped following the Texas Supreme Court refusing to support local bans on same-sex marriages.
Equality Texas CEO Ricardo Martinez portrayed Hensley and other elected officials claiming religious exemptions as obsessed.
“These elected officials continue to waste taxpayer money in an obsession to discriminate against gay and transgender Texans.
“Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable. Their actions are mean-spirited, futile, a waste of taxpayer money and most importantly, it’s wrong.”
Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Hensley claims the warning, which carries no penalty, violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. She says it “substantially burdened the free exercise of her religion, with no compelling justification.”
However, Hensley’s suit ignores that she is an elected public official, elected to serve the entire community. Justices of the peace perform civil ceremonies, not religious.
Indeed, the Commission on Judicial Conduct states Hensley’s claiming of a religious freedom exemption jeopardises her impartiality as a judge.
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