Texas' attorney general has released an official opinion declaring that state employees can refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples if they hold a moral or religious objection.
Attorney General Ken Paxton released the statement Sunday following the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.
In his statement, Paxton denounced the 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, but noted that the decision "acknowledged there are religious liberty protections of which individuals may be able to avail themselves."
"County clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses. The strength of any such claim depends on the particular facts of each case," stated Paxton.
"Justices of the peace and judges similarly retain religious freedoms, and may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding 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."
Paxton also noted that while state employees who refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples may face legal action, "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."
"Texas must speak with one voice against this lawlessness, and act on multiple levels to further protect religious liberties for all Texans," continued Paxton.
"This newly invented federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage should peaceably coexist alongside longstanding constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and speech."
Last Friday, the highest court in the land ruled that state level bans on same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution.
Authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the majority opinion overturned a decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding such bans as constitutional.
"It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves," concluded Kennedy.
"Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."
Texas is not the only state announcing efforts to allow state employees an exemption from having to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Earlier this month, the North Carolina legislature overturned a governor's veto on Senate Bill 2, which allowed state magistrates to refuse to perform gay weddings.
"Every magistrate has the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objection," read SB 2 in part.
"Every assistant register of deeds and deputy register of deeds has the right to recuse from issuing all lawful marriage licenses under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objection."