Texas Court of Appeals Dismisses Anti-Marriage Equality Official’s Lawsuit

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The right to religious freedom was violated when she was reprimanded for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Dianne Hensley, justice of the peace in McLennan County, was reprimand by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2019. She had stopped performing marriages after the US Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality in 2015, then resumed in 2016 but did not served only heterosexual couples, The Dallas Morning News reports. She said performing same-sex marriages would violate her Christian beliefs.

After the disciplinary action, she filed a complaint saying the commission should be barred ‘from investigating or sanctioning judges or justices of the peace who recuse themselves from officiating at same-sex marriages because of their sincere religious beliefs’ . Such penalties are a violation of the state’s religious freedom law, his complaint argued.

But a three-judge Texas Court of Appeals panel ruled Thursday that the law only prohibits “the threat or continued infringement” of a person’s religious practice. She had received a single reprimand and the commission had not expressed any intention to punish her again, the judges said. The commission was acting within its rights and was protected from prosecution by sovereign immunity, the legal doctrine that a government body cannot be sued without its consent, they added. The appeals court ruling upheld a trial court’s dismissal of Hensley’s lawsuit.

Hensley can appeal her lawsuit to the Texas Supreme Court, but she and her attorney have not said whether she will. Her lawyer is Jonathan Mitchell, a longtime anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion activist. He crafted anti-abortion law in Texas and, in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in the case that overturned Roe v. Wade, he argued that the high court should cancel the “court-invented rights to same-sex behavior and same-sex marriage” as well.

Mitchell also filed a lawsuit that led to a federal judge ruling this year that a requirement for insurers to cover HIV prevention drugs violated corporate religious freedom rights. Recently, he filed suit arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court Bostock v. County of Clayton decision, which prohibited anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment, should not apply to bisexuals.

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