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Texas judge warned for refusal to perform gay marriages

McLellan County Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley performs weddings, but only for straight couples.

Waco-based Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley’s refusal to perform gay weddings violates the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, a Texas judicial agency has said in a public warning.

The “warning” from the Texas Commission on Judicial Misconduct states that Hensley has declined to perform gay weddings since at least 2016, while continuing to marry heterosexual couples, despite the landmark ruling that declared the right to a same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.

The warning also states that starting in August 2016, Hensley’s staff would give all same-sex couples a paper that said “I’m sorry, but Judge Hensley has a sincerely held religious belief as a Christian, and will not be able to perform any same-sex weddings,’” with a list of referrals to local people who would do so.

The warning cites a 2017 interview in which Hensley told the Waco Tribune newspaper that following the Supreme Court decision, she initially chose not to perform any marriages at all. But then, she had a change of heart.

“My conscience was bothering me, because so many people were calling and wanting a wedding,” Hensley said, referring specifically to heterosexuals.

She started to perform weddings again — but only for straight couples. According to the newspaper, she married roughly 70 heterosexual couples between September 2015 and June 2017. She said she deserved a “religious exemption” from marrying gays as a “bible-believing” Christian.

Other justices of the peace at Waco’s courthouse squared their personal religious beliefs with the law by declining to perform all weddings, whether they were for same-sex or opposite-sex couples.

The Texas Commission on Judicial Misconduct said Hensley’s actions “should be publicly warned for casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially to persons appearing before her as a judge due to the person’s sexual orientation.”

In a statement emailed to the Austin Statesman newspaper this week, Hensley wrote, “I sought a solution so that anyone in McLennan County who wants to get married can get married. I have, do, and always will, follow the law.”

Hensley has 30 days to appeal the sanction, which was issued Nov. 12. The Waco Tribune said the sanction “has no practical effect on her role as an officeholder.”

In response to the warning against Hensley, Angela Hale, a spokesperson for Equality Texas, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, said, "Marriage is the law of the land and all elected officials must treat all Texans equally."

"LGBTQ Texans have the same rights to get married as every other Texan," she told NBC News.

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