South Dakota AG: Clerks Can Refuse Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

South Dakota AG: Clerks Can Refuse Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

South Dakota's Republican attorney general says that county clerks in his state who oppose marriage equality on religious grounds can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as long as another clerk in the office will issue the license. 

"The Supreme Court's decision and analysis on equal protection and due process must coexist with the constitutional right to freedom of religion," Attorney General Marty Jackley said Thursday, according to the Associated Press. "And in South Dakota, we will work to respect both in compliance with the court's directive."

Jackley proposed what he called a "commonsense solution" to balancing the religious freedom of county clerks with the constitutional right of same-sex couples to marry. If a county employee does not want to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, that employee can ask another employee in the office to step in and issue the license, he suggested. Jackley indicated that if every clerk in a given county refuses to issue a same-sex marriage license, the state itself could issue the license, according to the AP. No such conflict has yet arisen in South Dakota. 

Notably, Jackley was one of 15 Republican attorneys general who submitted a letter to congressional leaders last week urging their fellow lawmakers to uphold the tax-exempt status of churches that continue to oppose marriage equality in the wake of last month's landmark ruling. The letter, sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner, asked leadership to make sure the Internal Revenue Service does not revoke the long-standing tax-exempt status of religious institutions, even if those institutions maintain policies that are at odds with the Supreme Court's ruling on equal marriage.

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