Waco, Texas Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley was given a “public warning” recently by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for her practice of performing only opposite-sex weddings but not same-sex ceremonies. In the words of the Commission’s order, Judge Hensley’s religiously motivated policy was ethically wrong for “casting doubt on her capacity to act impartially” as a judge. That’s a serious ethics finding and could lead to even further actions from the Commission if Hensley continues the practice.
Judge Hensley and her staff have, since 2016, provided a statement to same-sex couples seeking an officiant for their ceremonies that says, “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.” The staff referred same-sex couples to other qualified officiants nearby willing to perform their ceremonies.
You’ll recall that in 2015 the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges decision mandated that all states legalize same-sex marriage. In response, several states enacted conscience laws that protect religious organizations and churches, and in some cases civil servants who were asked to perform or provide licenses for same-sex weddings. The Texas statute governing marriage ceremonies protects religious organizations but does not extend to civil servants. Judge Hensley, as an elected official, falls into neither category.
Some see the case involving the Waco judge as a deliberate attack on religious freedom. Jonathan Saenz is the President of Texas Values, a state family policy council and independent affiliate of Focus on the Family. In an email to The Daily Citizen, Saenz warns, “The war on religious freedom continues. Now we have some in this ‘state commission’ threatening Christian judges who refuse to participate in same-sex ceremonies. This is a clear example of putting politics above universal principles of freedom.”
No same-sex couples complained about being turned away by Judge Hensley. The Commission took it upon itself to go after the judge following a 2017 Waco Tribune-Herald news story on her wedding policy.
In Texas justices of the peace may—but are not required to—perform wedding ceremonies. Many have chosen not to perform any marriage ceremonies—opposite-sex or same-sex—in order to avoid being required to officiate at same-sex nuptials. That may be Judge Hensley’s only recourse now.
Hensley’s situation is more fallout from the Obergefell decision. The secular Left opposes religious exemptions or anything that isn’t a complete acquiescence to and a celebration of same-sex marriage. Especially where government involvement is concerned. The Commission’s targeting of Hensley exposes how deeply this prejudice against Christianity goes.
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