Written by Don Byrd

The Texas Senate approved Senate Bill 522 on second reading by a 21-10 vote. The legislation would allow county clerks to recuse themselves from the issuance of marriage licenses if doing so would conflict with their religious beliefs. The bill requires a recusing clerk to notify the commissioners court of their religious objection. The commissioners would in turn identify another government official that can certify marriage licenses.

Quotes in the Houston Chronicle report describe the debate over the bill:

Several Democrats questioned whether the law was necessary — or could perhaps trigger new discrimination. They questioned whether the change could make it more difficult for same-sex couples to get licenses in some counties.

“I’m afraid we’re opening up a box of unintended consequences,” said Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio.

“If we don’t do this we are discriminating against those people of faith,” Birdwell replied. “This bill protects the constitutional issues for both sides.”

“My main concern here is that all the clerks and judges know about the law and are following the law,” [Democratic Sen. Sylvia] Garcia said.

Birdwell responded: “Without this, we’re saying that if you have strongly held religious beliefs, you are not welcome in public office.”

SB 522 also allows judges to decline to perform marriage ceremonies that conflict with their religious beliefs.

The bill must still pass the third reading in the Senate before it is sent to the House for consideration. That final vote reportedly could occur later this week.