Bell County Justices of the Peace Don Engleking and Ted Duffield have ceased performing marriage ceremonies.

Engleking, who oversees the Justice Court in Precinct 2, linked his decision to cease marrying people to the recent 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton opposed the court’s ruling, and posted a nonbinding opinion on the attorney general’s website declaring that state workers can claim religious objection in denying marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Citing Paxton’s opinion, Engleking argued that performing a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple would violate his religious beliefs.

“My religious beliefs prevent me from performing same-sex marriages, so to be fair to everyone, I’ve stopped doing marriage ceremonies altogether,” Engleking said Monday.

He said the decision as a personal one made “in light of the Supreme Court ruling and the attorney general’s opinion.”

Duffield, Precinct 1, provided no explanation for his decision.

Judges Garland Potvin and Bill Cooke will both perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex individuals.

“Judge Cooke will perform a marriage ceremony for anyone with a valid marriage certificate,” said Jeanie Ortiz, clerk for the Precinct 4 Place 2 Justice Court.

Judges David Barfield and G.W. Ivey have not said whether they will perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

Ivey was unavailable because of a medical leave and Barfield declined to comment.

Attempts to contact Bell County’s district and county judges to find out whether they will perform ceremonies for same-sex couples were unsuccessful by press time.

Engleking’s decision not to perform marriage ceremonies proved polarizing, with local gay rights advocates attacking it and conservatives defending his position.

Irene Andrews, co-chairwoman of the Central Texas Stonewall Democrats, described Engleking’s decision as “damaging to the public trust” and said it calls in to question his impartiality.

She claimed the judge opened himself to charges of bias and wondered whether Engleking would be able to decide a case involving a homosexual person on its own merits.

“Will this lead to the judge’s former or future rulings being appealed because he won’t marry gay people?” she said rhetorically. “Is the county opening itself up for lawsuits?”

Engleking was unavailable to immediately respond to Andrews’ allegations.

County Attorney Jim Nichols noted the potential conflict created by Paxton’s opinion and the Supreme Court’s decision at the Bell County Commissioners’ weekly workshop meeting Monday.

“They’ve decided to let this be settled in lower courts,” Nichols said.

Even nonlawyers began speculating about the possible legal outcomes.

The Rev. Jeff Harris, pastor of the Grace Community Primitive Baptist Church and president of the Central Texas Tea Party, said he thinks there will be “much, much litigation in the coming days because of the inconsistencies.”

“It’ll cost us money to fight these court cases,” Harris said. “Money we desperately need for our roads.”

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(3) comments

Roody2

Harrisburg Pa newspaper (The Patriot News) said it will not print LTE's or op-eds that oppose same sex marriage.

That's called "Progress." We can now put free speech behind us.

GEvans

I respect these two judges for holding true to their principles. If voters don't like it, then they can vote for a pro-gay opponent in the next election. That's the way the system is supposed to work. Majority rules.

tomintexas

Voters should remember situations such as this - when so called "public servants" decide for whatever reason that they do not wish to carry out their traditional duties. Whether they, or you, or I agree with the Supreme Court decision, it has been passed through the system and is now the law of the land. At the very least, those feeding at the taxpayers' trough should accept that, and if they cannot, they should step down. The U.S. has a system of government that has prevailed for more than 200 years, and if such elected officials are allowed to decide what they will do or not do based on their personal beliefs the U.S. is weaker for it. Maybe they should review their oath of office.

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