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DES MOINES, Iowa (BP)–A prominent Christian legal group is warning that religious liberties will be threatened next week when the Iowa high court’s “gay marriage” ruling goes into effect, directly impacting the job requirements of county officials who are required to issue marriage licenses.
The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization, and the Iowa Family Policy Center released a letter Wednesday urging each of the state’s 99 county recorders to adopt a policy allowing employees to opt out of issuing a marriage license if doing do so would violate their religious or moral beliefs.
Such a policy could lead to legal action from Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, a Democrat who supports the high court’s ruling and who has said county recorders have a duty to abide by it. The Alliance Defense Fund, though, has promised to provide free legal representation to any recorder who is sued after adopting such a policy. ADF and the Iowa Family Policy Center released specific policy language they hope recorders adopt.
The court’s ruling is expected to take effect Monday.
“It is a matter of religious freedom, and no one should be compelled to do anything that is offensive to their basic fundamental beliefs,” Alliance Defense Fund attorney Doug Napier told Baptist Press. “To force county recorders to issue same-sex marriage licenses against their religious beliefs would be contrary to the constitution. … We know there are a number of county recorders that are very troubled by the Supreme Court’s decision and personally are opposed to same-sex marriage.”
The court’s ruling already has led to one official — Third District Magistrate Francis Honrath — to stop conducting marriage ceremonies altogether, the Des Moines Register reported. But Honrath, who is Catholic, is not a county recorder, and as a magistrate he has such an option. County recorders do not.
Miller issued a statement Tuesday saying that “we expect duly-elected county recorders to comply with” the state constitution “as interpreted unanimously by the Iowa Supreme Court.”
“If necessary,” he said, “we will explore legal actions to enforce and implement the Court’s ruling, working with the Iowa Dept. of Public Health and county attorneys.”
The Alliance Defense Fund and the Iowa Family Policy Center say the state has a history of protecting individual conscience rights, as evidenced by Iowa Code 146.1, which protects an “individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions” and prohibits doctors from being forced to perform abortions.
“The policy is needed because the attorney general is giving bad advice to county recorders, saying that they have no option but to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” Napier said. “Yet, they do have a right of conscience which he doesn’t mention in his statement, and we wanted them to be aware that they have this right of conscience, that their employees have this right of conscience and it’s protected under the constitution. And they should respect and honor that and take advantage of it themselves if they want to.”
ADF released a 93-word policy it said it would defend in court if a count recorder adopted it. It says, in part, “An individual who may lawfully perform services for or provide services to” the county recorder’s office “shall not be required to issue or process a marriage license, or to perform, assist, or participate in such procedures, against that individual’s religious beliefs or moral convictions.”
Napier said the policy would not, as critics charge, open the door to allowing employees to not issue marriage licenses to interracial couples.
“Those kinds of red herrings have been brought up repeatedly,” he said. “… The Thirteenth Amendment is in place and the Fourteenth Amendment is in place, and there’s other laws that govern those issues.”
The controversy is but the latest salvo in what another pro-family organization, the National Organization for Marriage, has warned will happen when “gay marriage” is legalized. The organization launched a $1.5 million ad campaign in early April warning about the consequences to parental rights and religious liberty if marriage is redefined. Among the ad’s examples was the true story of two Massachusetts parents whose second-grade son was read a book at school about a prince “marrying” another prince. The parents complained, but the school informed the couple they would not be given advance note in the future about any such books. The parents sued the school in federal court but lost. “Gay marriage” is legal in Massachusetts.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.