WACO, Texas, December 24, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — A judge who received a public warning from the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct for recusing herself from conducting same-sex weddings has filed a lawsuit against the censuring agency.
The judge, the Honorable Dianne Hensley, was cited in the warning for performing opposite-sex weddings while declining to perform same-sex “wedding” ceremonies because “her conscience and religion prohibited her from officiating same-sex weddings.”
The state agency concluded that Hensley “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,” despite the fact she provided a list of others who happily conduct same-sex “weddings.”
Her suit asserts that her rights have been violated under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act and that “by investigating and punishing Judge Hensley for acting in accordance with the commands of her Christian faith, the Commission and its members have substantially burdened the free exercise of her religion, with no compelling justification.”
Hensley explained that after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex “marriage,” only one Justice of the Peace in McLennan County “continued performing weddings and he wasn’t available all the time.” Hensley herself had decided to no longer perform weddings at all in the aftermath of Obergefell in order to avoid turning down requests for same-sex “weddings.”
“Perhaps because my office is located in the Courthouse across the street from the County Clerk’s office where marriage licenses are issued, we received many phone calls and office visits in the next year from couples looking for someone to marry them. Many people calling or coming by the office were very frustrated and some literally in tears because they were unaffiliated with or didn’t desire a church wedding and they couldn’t find anyone to officiate,” said Hensley.
She “became convicted that it was wrong to inconvenience 99 percent of the population because I was unable to accommodate less than one percent,” and so began to once again officiate weddings.
The judge’s suit against members of the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct states:
Judge Hensley’s conscience is informed by the teachings of her Chrisitan faith. To remain faithful to her firmly held religious beliefs, she cannot officiate a same-sex marriage ceremony. These same religious convictions compel Judge Hensley to treat all people, regardless of sexual preference or orientation, with dignity, respect, and kindness. Her Christian belief in the dignity of the individual led Judge Hensley to consider how to accommodate those seeking a local wedding officiant. Not wishing to bind the conscience of others, Judge Hensley sought to provide the public with reasonable alternatives.
At her own expense, Judge Hensley invested extensive time and resources to compile a referral list of alternative, local, and low-cost wedding officiants in Waco that she provides to people for whom she is unable to officiate due to time constraints or her religious convictions. One such officiant operates a walk-in wedding chapel located just a short walk (three blocks) from Judge Hensley’s courtroom. Those who mention that the referral to this walk-in wedding officiant came from Judge Hensley receive a discounted rate to comport with Judge Hensley’s rate.
Hensley’s suit points to a “perverse effect” inconveniencing all the citizens of McLennan County if she is forced by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct to again abstain from performing any and all weddings.
If Judge Hensley is forbidden to recuse herself from officiating at same-sex weddings, then she will stop officiating weddings entirely, as she did in the immediate aftermath of Obergefell. That outcome does nothing to alleviate inconveniences that Judge Hensley’s referral system might impose on same-sex couples. Indeed, the Commission’s actions have the perverse effect of imposing even greater inconveniences on same-sex and opposite-sex couples seeking low-cost weddings. Same-sex couples will no longer have the benefit of Judge Hensley’s referral system, and opposite-sex couples will have one fewer option from an already short (and shrinking) list of low-cost weddings officiants in Waco.
Despite the fact that Judge Hensley is only seeking to maintain her rights to religious liberty guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, LGBT news outlets greeted the news that the judicial conduct oversight agency had issued its warning against her.
The Advocate Magazine declared that “Hensley is finally facing repercussions for refusing to marry same-sex couples four years after the Supreme Court ruled for marriage equality.” Queerty proclaimed, “Judge who said she’s ‘entitled’ to discriminate against gay couples slapped with misconduct warning.”
Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas, told The Texas Tribune that elected officials such as Hensley “continue to waste taxpayer money in an obsession to discriminate against gay and transgender Texans. This is not what Texans want or expect from elected officials. Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable.
“Their actions are mean spirited, futile, a waste of taxpayer money and most importantly, it’s wrong,” asserted the LGBT activist.