In what has been described as a new front in the battle over same-sex marriage, legislators in several states under judicial orders to confer marital status on same-sex couples have introduced bills to forbid state or local officials from issuing marriage licenses to couples of the same gender. The bills would also strip the salaries of employees who issued the licenses, the New York Times reported Thursday.
The bills have been introduced in the legislatures of Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas, with South Carolina also considering a bill that would allow officials to opt out of issuing such licenses if it conflicts with their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Lawmakers in North Carolina and Utah have bills before them with similar opt-out provisions. And Roy Moore, chief justice of Alabama, has told officials in his state that they need not comply with a federal court order in favor of same-sex marriage in Alabama, in part because “nothing in the United States Constitution grants the federal government the authority to redefine the institution of marriage.”
More than 40 federal court rulings declaring a right to same-sex marriage have been handed down since the Supreme Court in 2012 struck down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that limited federal marriage benefits to opposite-sex couples only. On the same day, the justices also let stand a lower court decision that California’s ban on same-sex marriage, adopted by voters in a referendum in 2008, was unconstitutional. Last October the high court refused to hear an appeal from rulings requiring five states to grant legal equality between heterosexual and same-sex marriage, thereby increasing the the number of states permitting marriage for same-sex couples at that time from 19 to 24. It has since been made legal in a dozen more states, bringing the total to 36 states and the District of Columbia, encompassing 70 percent of the nation’s population.