Religious Freedom Lawyers Say RI, Minn. Officials Don't Have to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

As gay couples made final preparations for marriages to be held on Thursday in Rhode Island and Minnesota when the states become the 12th and 13th in the U.S., along with the District of Columbia, to allow same-sex marriage, a religious liberty law group advised officials that they do not have to personally issue marriage licenses to same-sex applicants.

Alliance Defending Freedom issued two new legal memos on Wednesday in the states advising officials that they can delegate responsibility for issuing the licenses to deputies or assistants who don't have conscience-based objections to issuing the licenses to same-sex applicants.

"No American should have to choose between their conscience and their job in America," said ADF Litigation Counsel Kellie Fiedorek. "The First Amendment protects Americans from being coerced to give up their careers to maintain their religious freedom. Religious freedom is guaranteed to every American, including those issuing marriage licenses."

Fiedorek explained that the government can respect the faith and conscience of officials while providing no impediment to carrying out the law.

In Rhode Island, for example, the ADF memo states that, in light of the state's new law "redefining marriage to include same-sex couples," some county clerks "might believe that they face a serious dilemma: either resign their positions or violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs by being forced by state law to issue marriage licenses to relationships inconsistent with those beliefs."

However, ADF states that those officials can resolve this potential dilemma by appointing "a deputy clerk with full authority to perform all acts necessary to issue, administer, or process the marriage licenses of same-sex couples should a conflict arise."

ADF also explains in both memos that if the officials encounter resistance in their efforts to resolve the conflict, they can contact its organization for legal advice.

Similar memos for clerks in Delaware, Maine, Maryland, and Washington, have previously been issued by ADF.

The state's budget officials in Minnesota estimated that about 5,000 gay couples would marry in the first year as a result of the passed law, according to AP. In a relatively short time of political activity on the issue, voters rejected a constitutional ban on gay marriage last fall and the state legislature moved to make it legal in the spring of this year.

Rhode Island is the last New England state to allow same-sex marriage. After more than 16 years of efforts by same-sex marriage supporters, the law to allow gay marriage passed this spring, AP reported. Minnesota and Rhode Island will automatically recognize marriages performed in other states.

In Dayton, Minn., Aug. 1 has been proclaimed to be "Freedom to Marry Day." The governor is scheduled to be present at Minneapolis City Hall for the ceremonies starting at midnight, where Mayor R.T. Rybak planned to perform 42 marriages by 6 a.m., according to AP.

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