MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday that marriage is now a fundamental right for same sex couples. Almost immediately, public officials weighed in, saying county and state workers could refuse to hand out those licenses based on their religious beliefs.
On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote, in part, that “county clerks and their employees retain religious freedoms that may allow accommodation of their religious objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.” Officials in Mississippi, Louisiana and Kentucky have tried to delay issuing licenses as well.
So, what happens when you ignore the Supreme Court?
“All kinds of nasty things can happen,” said David Schultz, a constitutional law expert at the Hamline School of Law.
Article VI, Clause 2 of the U.S. Constitution says, “This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land.”
Schultz says the way the U.S. Constitution has evolved, the U.S. Supreme Court gets the final word on what the Constitution means.
If a clerk doesn’t issue a license, a person could go to the local court and ask for an order from that court. If the clerk continues to refuse, a person could ask the court to issue a contempt citation. Paxton, in his opinion, did acknowledge that anyone who refuses to give a marriage license could face fees and litigation.
All public officials and employees sign an oath they will uphold the law.
In 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered troops into Little Rock to follow the court’s school desegregation order. At the time, Eisenhower said, “We are a nation in which law, not men, are supreme.”
Schultz says these marriage licenses will ultimately be issued everywhere, but when it happens will depend on how much resistance comes from the officials.
“This is not one of those situations where you’re going to bring out troops and put them in a courthouse,” he said. “But I could see a court saying fine if you’re not going to do that, we’re going to fine you heavily until you do, or more likely, automatically issue the licenses themselves.”