The first openly gay Texas legislator has filed an ethics complaint against Attorney General Ken Paxton over Paxton’s statement that county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if they have faith-based objections.
Glen Maxey, who was a state representative from Austin from 1991 to 2003, announced today that he’s filed the complaint with the State Bar of Texas, The Dallas Morning News reports.
“It’s irresponsible for an elected official — and a lawyer — to tell other elected officials to break the law,” Maxey said in a prepared statement. “He’s misleading county and state officials based on a false premise that they can discriminate against same-sex couples. This past Friday, the Supreme Court was clear with their decision to let same-sex couples marry. Paxton took an oath to defend and protect the constitution, he must comply with the court’s decision. Paxton is no stranger to shady business. This just gives us another reason to question his legitimacy as a Texas Attorney General, lawyer, and trustworthy individual.”
Also, 150 Texas attorneys have written a letter to Paxton, urging him to change his mind and saying they’ll file a complaint if he doesn’t. One member of the group said Maxey, who is not a lawyer, may have acted too soon.
“We want to give [Paxton] the benefit of the doubt,” Steve Fischer, a former director of the State Bar of Texas, told the Morning News. He pointed out that states have 25 days to implement Supreme Court directives. Still, urging public officials to defy the law is a serious offense, for which Paxton could be disbarred, he added.
In his nonbinding opinion that clerks could refuse to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of religious objections, Paxton acknowledged that such refusals could result in lawsuits or fines, but he also wrote that “numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights.” He called the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision “lawless” and “flawed.”
At least one clerk can expect to be sued Monday morning, the Dallas paper reports. Hood County Clerk Katie Lang said earlier this week that she would not issue licenses to same-sex couples, but her staff would do so. However, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who sought a license at her office Thursday, were turned away, with a staffer saying the office didn’t have the right forms — although more than 200 other Texas counties have them, and they are available online, the Morning News reports.
Jan Soifer, one of the couple’s attorneys, was told that opposite sex-couples could get licenses. “So we’ll be filing a lawsuit first thing Monday morning,” she told the paper. “That’s the plan.”