AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments relating to disciplinary action taken against a Waco-area judge who refuses to perform same-sex marriages.
The case tests the authority of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct while pitting LGBTQ+ rights against the discretion granted to elected officials on religious grounds.
In 2019, the Commission issued a warning to McClennan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley for her refusal to perform marriages for same-sex couples, claiming her conduct shows an inability to uphold her oath of impartiality.
The state’s attorney described instances in which Hensley’s clerks would greet gay couples seeking to be married, turn them away, and provide them a list of other judges who would serve them.
“She has chosen to discriminate between some folks in the state of Texas in favor of other people. And it flies in the face of impartiality,” attorney Douglas Lang argued to the court Monday morning.
Hensley asserts state religious freedom laws allow her to hold her sincere religious convictions while acting as an elected judge.
“In this case, we have a judge who’s made it clear that her convictions, her religious beliefs, her conscience says that she believes a marriage is between a man and a woman, and that there are other judges available to perform same sex marriages,” President of Texas Values Jonathan Saenz told Nexstar. “She shouldn’t individually be forced to do that and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct should not be punishing her.”
Hensley’s legal team is seeking to prevent the Commission from taking further action against her while allowing her to continue her practice without the requirement of marrying gay couples.
Both sides presented brief arguments and fielded questions from the Court on Monday, but they do not expect a resolution until at least June — when this Court’s current term ends.
“The best outcome would be for this judge to not be forced to violate her conscience beliefs, for religious freedom to prevail,” Saenz said. “People shouldn’t be disqualified from being office, they shouldn’t be targeted simply because we have different views on these issues.”