Clerks of courts, justices of the peace and other state officials don’t have to issue same sex marriage licenses if they hold a sincere belief that such an action violated their religious faith, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s executive counsel stated in a legal memo to the governor that was released Monday afternoon.
The governor’s chief legal advisor, Thomas Enright, says the fundamental rights of all citizens must be protected while the courts and state officials figure out how all the competing rights can coexist. That means “individuals employed in any branch of the government” can refuse.
“The ruling in Obergefell does not permit states to bar same-sex couples from marriage, but the ruling in no way forces specific individuals to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs, or to perform or facilitate same sex marriages,” the statement says. The U.S. Supreme Court held Friday in Obergefell v. Hodges that constitution allows for the right to same sex marriage.
Workers who refuse to handle licenses could face litigation and fines. But Enright’s statement says state government would provide a means to legally defend the refusal of an official not issuing a license on religious grounds. The statement goes on to say that a number of lawyers from around the state have expressed a interest to represent people without charge.
“We urge all branches of government in Louisiana to protect and respect individuals’ fundamental religious liberties regarding sincerely held religious convictions about the institution of marriage,” read the statement signed by Enright. “By way of example, appropriate accommodations may be made for state employees who express a religious objection to involvement in issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, and judges and justices of the peace may not be forced to officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony when other authorized individuals who have no religious objection are available.”
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier Monday afternoon asked the parties in a Louisiana case litigating similar facts and law as Obergefell, to file by Wednesday letters advising the judges of the current posture of the case and suggesting how the appellate court should apply the new law. Enright pointed out that 5th Circuit, which oversees Louisiana, has not yet rendered a full decision.
The statement from Jindal’s office is similar to one issued Sunday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton saying state workers can refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses if doing so is contrary to his or her religious beliefs.
“(Judges and other state workers) may claim that the government cannot force them to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies over their religious objections,” Paxton said in the statement.
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