Texas court throws out judge’s lawsuit after she refuses to wed same-sex couples
A judge in Texas who refused to marry same-sex couples has had her lawsuit against the state agency that oversees judicial misconduct thrown out of court. She filed the lawsuit in late 2019 after the agency warned her she needed to change her ways or stop officiating weddings.
Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley works in Waco, McLellan County. A devout Christian, she filed a class-action lawsuit to enable her, and other justices of the peace in the state, to decline to marry same-sex couples.
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She was backed by the First Liberty Institute, an organization that has helped others to fight to express their religious beliefs. The lawsuit, against the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, was moved to Travis County last year.
On Monday, the Waco Tribune-Herald reported that Judge Jan Soifer threw the case out of court.
Soifer ruled the State Commission on Judicial Conduct had sovereign and statutory immunity from the claims. She also said Hensley had failed to exhaust other legal avenues before filing her action.
SCOTUS ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples could marry across the US. Some officiants and judges have stepped down from performing marriage ceremonies because they believe having to wed gay couples goes against their religious beliefs.
In fact, it was reported last summer that all but one of the other five McLennan County justices of the peace have stopped doing weddings since the Supreme Court decision.
In Texas, officiating weddings is an optional duty for justices of the peace. Performing them can help those officiating to earn thousands of dollars in extra income.
Between August 2016 and late 2019, Hensley conducted over 300 wedding ceremonies, all for opposite-sex couples. Hensley earned around $25,000 for these duties, according to the Houston Chronicle.
If her office was approached by any same-sex couples, they were given a document explaining her reasoning for declining and providing a list of others who could perform the ceremony.
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Hensley made her opposition to marrying gay couples public knowledge. In 2017, she told local news station 25 News KXXV, “I have no desire to offend anybody, but the last person I want to offend is God.”
Hensley’s suit was seeking $10,000 in damages for the money she claims she lost while the commission investigated her. She also wanted a ruling allowing her to continue to refuse to marry same-sex couples. In throwing out the case, Judge Soifer also ordered Hensley to pay court costs associated with her lawsuit.