Meet 3 Houston judges refusing to perform gay marriages

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Three justices of the peace in Harris County are so opposed to performing gay marriages that they've stopped presiding over marriages altogether. 

Meet the holdouts, all Republicans: Laryssa Korduba (center photo), a Precinct 4 judge elected in 2014 who operates in Humble; Precinct 5's Russ Ridgway (left), appointed in 2003 and first elected a year later who serves near Bellaire; and Jeff Williams (right), elected in 2010 in Precinct 5 and who works in Addicks.

Their opposition is enough to make Attorney General Ken Paxton and Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart proud. Via the Houston Chronicle:

Korduba performed her last ceremony Aug. 7, according to the county clerk's data through Aug. 20. That data shows that Ridgway last officiated Aug. 11; and Williams held his last wedding Aug. 14. The county clerk, Stan Stanart, said Tuesday these JPs performed weddings after the Supreme Court ruling, but in a limited capacity. Stanart said Ridgway told him, “I had these commitments beforehand.” The others made similar comments: “That's what Laryssa (Korduba) told me, too, and Jeff (Williams). They had commitments. They booked them up beforehand. But there are no new bookings. That's what I've been told at this time,” Stanart said.

The three judges still oversee criminal, civil and traffic proceedings but when it comes to wedded bliss, you'll no longer find any in their courtrooms. Their actions are troubling but legal.

To be clear, these JPs will not be breaking the law or shirking their duties by halting weddings, legal experts say. In fact, they are opting to forgo thousands of dollars of personal income, based on the rates they charged in recent months. Justices of the peace may keep this income. They have complete discretion to set their rates. Costs range from $50 to $400 per ceremony.

Although the Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion this month stating judges may not refuse to perform marriages altogether based on personal, moral or religious objections to same sex marriage, officiating weddings in Texas is a choice.

In other words, all JPs in Texas may marry same-sex couples, but the law does not oblige them to marry anyone, according to Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan.

Stanart, who opposes gay marriage, hoped to join them in snubbing the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in June. But Ryan swatted him down and Stanart reluctantly had his office start issuing licenses to gay couples. The first gay marriages in Houston quickly followed.

Fortunately, justices of the peace in Harris, Brazoria and Fort Bend counties aren't following the actions of Korduba, Ridgway and Williams, according to the Chronicle. 

Requests from same-sex couples have picked up. About nine of the county's 16 JPs have performed same-sex weddings since the Supreme Court ruling was announced June 26. Judge Don Coffey, a Democrat based in Baytown, said Friday he had performed 15 or 20; and Judge Zinetta Burney, a Democrat based in south Houston, said she had officiated one and had a second one scheduled.

At least three Brazoria County JPs said they have been performing same-sex weddings. Lacey Paladino, civil clerk for Judge Jack Brown in Lake Jackson, said out of 100 weddings performed so far this year, Brown officiated five same-sex weddings. Judge Milan Miller in Freeport said he has performed two same-sex weddings. He said he did between 25 and 50 weddings in 2014.

In Fort Bend County, justices of the peace agreed at a meeting that they all would perform same-sex marriages, said Judge Joel Clouser in Missouri City.

“We're going to follow the law. It's the law,” he said. “The Supreme Court ruled. Who am I to judge? I'm not going to question who anybody loves. Let's just do it.”


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