Bell County Clerk -
Bell County Justice Center
1201 Huey Road
Belton, Texas 76513
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 480
Belton, Texas 76513
Office Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m., Monday - Friday
I am Shelley Coston, the Bell County Clerk. I have held this position since being elected and taking office January 1, 2007. In the last 48 hours, since the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court in favor of same sex marriages, my office has sought guidance on how this decision affects the duties of my office.
Being County Clerk, in any county in Texas, is a ministerial position. Ministerial is defined as “an act or a function that conforms to an instruction or a prescribed procedure. A ministerial act or duty is a function performed without the use of judgment by the person performing the act or duty.” As County Clerk, one of our duties is the issuance of marriage licenses to qualified applicants. The definition of a “qualified applicant” has changed due to the ruling by the Supreme Court. This ruling created numerous procedural and logistical questions for County Clerks.
Soon after the ruling was handed down, I issued the following statement to the public and the local media:
“In regards to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage, the Bell County Clerk’s Office is awaiting direction from our legal counsel, the Department of State Health Service – Vital Statistics Unit and the Texas Attorney General before issuing such marriage licenses. Our office will continue present operations until directives are received by the State. We are expecting further information later today, June 26, 2015.”
Over the weekend the Department of State Health Services – Vital Statistics Unit issued revised Marriage License application forms that replace “Male” and “Female” with the terms “Applicant 1 and Applicant 2”. This afternoon, Sunday, June 28, Attorney General Ken Paxton issued Opinion No. KP-0025, entitled: Government Officials Involved with Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses and Conducting Same-Sex Wedding Ceremonies.
In the Opinion, it states that since there are a number of alternatives about who can conduct a wedding ceremony, Justices of the Peace and judges are not mandated to conduct same-sex ceremonies. However, there are no such alternatives as to who can issue a marriage license. Only a County Clerk can do so.
Concerning the duties of a County Clerk, the Opinion states that, “ Factual situations may arise in which the county clerk seeks to delegate the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses due to a religious objection, but every employee also has a religious objection to participating in same-sex-marriage licensure. In that scenario, were a clerk to issue traditional marriage licenses while refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, it is conceivable that an applicant for a same-sex marriage license may claim a violation of the constitution.”
The costs of defending such a lawsuit and the potential for damages would be substantial. I cannot do that to our taxpayers.
Under state law, Texas Family Code Section 2.008(a), states that County Clerks “shall” issue marriage licenses to conforming applications. Based on state law, revised forms from the Vital statistics Unit, and Attorney General Opinion KP-0025, the Bell County Clerk’s Office will issue marriage licenses to conforming applications, as now defined by the United States Supreme Court. Reasonable accommodations will be made for Deputy Clerks that have religious objections to participating in the issuance of such licenses.
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