A Texas justice of the peace has sued the state for punishing her after she refused to perform same-sex weddings due to her religious convictions that marriage is between a man and a woman.
Waco Judge Dianne Hensley received a public warning from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2019 for performing heterosexual weddings for couples but refusing to perform same-sex weddings.
Attorneys with First Liberty Institute, a non-profit legal group, argued that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of a Christian graphic artist who declined to design wedding websites for same-sex couples because it violated her religious beliefs, supports Hensley’s decision to only officiate weddings that align with her faith.
In 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states must license same-sex marriages, Hensley decided to stop officiating all weddings since under Texas law, judges are not required to officiate weddings.
However, shortly afterward, she only officiated heterosexual weddings citing her Christian beliefs.
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The state’s commission said Hensley’s “conduct demonstrates her bias against certain citizens of the State of Texas.”
According to First Liberty, which is representing Hensley, she quit officiating and compiled a referral list of alternative, local wedding officiants.
“She was concerned about turning away members of the community who can’t afford a wedding in a church or an expensive venue but still want to be married,” said First Liberty Institute attorney Hiram Sasser. “So she found an inexpensive wedding venue near the courthouse that would schedule weddings for all couples.”
The list included one within walking distance of her office which agreed to reduce the cost of the wedding to the same amount Judge Hensley received and which would do same-sex weddings within the same time-frame as Judge Hensley. Her referral solution provided wedding options after many public officials ceased officiating any and all weddings.
Hensley sought to ensure that those in McLennan County seeking to be married were accommodated, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“Judge Hensley has been adhering to the law and the legal guidance provided by the Attorney General of Texas,” Sasser said. “Her way of reconciling her religious beliefs while meeting the needs of her community is not just legal but should be a model for public officials across Texas.”
Despite her efforts and no complaints from the public, the State Commission issued the public warning sanctioning her for the referral solution and accusing her of violating certain canons of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct.
Hensley’s lawsuit alleges that the commission violated her rights under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act and claimed the warning “substantially burdened the free exercise of her religion, with no compelling justification.”
She is seeking damages of $10,000.
According to the Texas Tribune, it is unclear when the Texas Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the lawsuit.
In a recent interview with The Dallas Morning News, Hensley said she “would love to win, because I think it’s right. My life’s not gonna change one way or the other.” But she said that officiating weddings became “more overwhelming than it got to be joyful for me. I can’t say that I have missed it in any sense.”