Friday, September 18, 2015

Texas AG Ken Paxton jumps into gay marriage fight

I’ll say this for Kim Davis. 

The Kentucky County Clerk was willing to go to jail for her religious belief that God doesn’t want gay couples to be given the rights straight couples acquire in marriage.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s position is more nuanced.

Conservative cheerleaders, such as powerful Houston republican activist Dr. Steve Hotze, urged Paxton to lead the resistance against the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“Do what the Louisiana AG has done,” Hotze said in an email, obtained by the Dallas Morning News.

That state’s republican attorney general said Louisiana didn’t have to comply because there was no specific line in the court ruling saying so.

“The illegitimate SCOTUS ruling does not name Texas, so fight those lousy bastards,” said Hotze, president of Conservative Republicans of Texas.

In a press release after the Supreme Court decision, Paxton’s rhetoric was only slightly less belligerent.

Three times he called the decision “lawless.”

“Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans, but most immediately do anything we can to help our county clerks and public officials who now are forced with defending their religious beliefs against the Court’s ruling.”

As Neal Lane, the San Antonio lawyer who earlier won a ruling that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, said in a federal court filing, Paxton’s words were a “dog whistle” encouraging county clerks to be like Kim Davis without actually saying it.

In the press release, Paxton encouraged county clerks to take a stand based on their religious convictions, but noted that they may be sued.

“But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights,” Paxton said.

It’s the attorney general as cheerleader – a classic case of “Let’s you and them fight!”

Fortunately for Paxton, career lawyers in his office had drawn up a sober, legally supportable advisory, saying county clerks could religiously object to personally issuing licenses, so long as someone on their staff was available to do so – the same solution that later freed Kim Davis from jail.

But not long after, San Antonio federal Judge Orlando Garcia offered Paxton the chance to play the hero.

CORRECTION: A picture used in this episode is not Judge Orlando Garcia but is instead Judge Ray Olivarri. We apologize for the error. 

Garcia ordered him to come to court to explain why he should not be held in contempt for not insisting that county clerks list gays who had been legally married in other states on birth and death certificates.

Within days, Texas gays were being listed as spouses on the birth certificates of children from their marriages, and on death certificates when widowed.

Speaking of jail, Paxton is already a candidate for potential incarceration due to indictments regarding securities fraud. And if he played a role in blocking gay marriage, he could be indicted for another infraction.

Chapter 39 of the Texas Criminal Code makes “official oppression” a crime.

A “public servant acting under color of his office or employment commits an offense if he … intentionally denies or impedes another in the exercise or enjoyment of any right, privilege, power, or immunity, knowing his conduct is unlawful,” the law says.

The Supreme Court has decided that marriage is a right for all Americans. Still, I guess Paxton could plead ignorance.

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