Texas AG: State workers can deny licenses to gay couples

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How Four Justices Disagreed with Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Texas' conservative Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton called the Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry a "lawless ruling" and said state workers can cite their religious objections in denying marriage licenses.

He warned in a statement Sunday that any clerk, justice of the peace or other administrator who declines to issue a license to a same-sex couple could face litigation or a fine.

But in the nonbinding legal opinion requested by Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Paxton says "numerous lawyers" stand ready to defend, free of charge, any public official refusing to grant one.

In its 5-4 opinion Friday, the Supreme Court did nothing to eliminate rights of religious liberty, Paxton's opinion states.

"This newly minted federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage can and should peaceably coexist with longstanding constitutional and statutory rights, including the rights to free exercise of religion and freedom of speech," the AG wrote.

While many Republicans have said they disagreed with the Supreme Court ruling, officials in most states have said that they will abide by it. Paxton's comments echoed those Friday of Gov. Greg Abbott, who said Texans can't be forced by the court ruling to act contrary to their religious beliefs.

"Despite the Supreme Court's rulings, Texans' fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected," Abbott said Friday.

SEE: Photos from outside the Supreme Court once the ruling on marriage was announced

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Supreme Court Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage, Gay Marriage, Marriage Equality
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Texas AG: State workers can deny licenses to gay couples
People celebrate during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Ikeita Cantu, left, and her wife Carmen Guzman, of McLean, Va., hold up signs as they celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. The couple was married in Canada in 2009 when gay marriage was illegal in Virginia. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A couple kiss to celebrate the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that legalized same sex marriage nationwide, is backed by supporters of the courts ruling on same-sex marriage on the step of the Texas Capitol during a rally Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the United States. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Marriage equality supporters rally on the steps of the Supreme Court as they wait for a decision Friday, June 26, 2015, in Washington. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
People celebrates during a rally outside the Stonewall Tavern in the West Village in New York on June 26, 2015, after the US Supreme Court's historic decision on same sex marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled on June 26, that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/JEWEL SAMAD (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlos McKnight of Washington, waves a flag in support of gay marriage outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. A major opinion on gay marriage is among the remaining to be released before the term ends at the end of June. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriage celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Two women celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
People run under a giant equality flag as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters from the Human Rights Campaign celebrate after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriages nationwide on Friday, June 26, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd celebrates outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
President Barack Obama walks toward the podium before speaking in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, after the Supreme Court declared that same-sex couples have the right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 26: Activists hold signs regarding same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
From left, Annie Katz of the University of Michigan, Zaria Cummings of Michigan State University, Spencer Perry of Berkeley, Calif., and Justin Maffett of Dartmouth University, celebrate outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015, after the court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court hands down a ruling regarding same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People shout slogans as they celebrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The crowd reacts as the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced outside of the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday June 26, 2015. The Supreme Court declared Friday that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Same-sex marriage supporters hold rainbow flags outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
People wave a giant equality flag in celebration outside the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on June 26, 2015 after its historic decision on gay marriage. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation. The nation's highest court, in a narrow 5-4 decision, said the US Constitution requires all states to carry out and recognize marriage between people of the same sex. AFP PHOTO/ MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Ariel Olah of Detroit, left, and her fiancee Katie Boatman, are overcome by emotion outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Friday, June 26, 2015, as the ruling on same-sex marriage was announced. The court declared that same-sex couples have a right to marry anywhere in the US. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
A man holds a rainbow flag in support of same-sex marriage outside the U.S. Supreme Court June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in all 50 states. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Carmelita Cabello, left, and her partner of 31 year, Jaque Roberts, right, arrive at the Travis County building for a marriage license after hearing the Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Lupe Garcia, left, hugs her partner Cindy Stocking, right, at the Travis County building after hearing the Supreme Court ruling that grants same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay couples nationwide have the right to marry in a 5-4 decision. How incredible it is to be here as they announced it!
It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality . . . Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. #fbf #equality #lovemustwin #freedomtomarry
People are FREAKING OUT at the Stonewall Inn! Tears, hugs, laughter. http://t.co/bC1RUfEDzk
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN - Participants celebrate at the San Francisco Pride Parade on Sunday, June 28, 2015, in San Francisco, Calif., two days after the Supreme Court's landmark decision to require that states issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. (Adm Golub/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)
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In his two-page memo, Abbott ordered agency leaders that no one in their ranks could take "adverse action" against someone acting on their religious beliefs, including "granting or denying benefits." That led to early confusion and questions over whether state agencies might deny health or retirement benefits to the spouses of gay employees.

Abbott spokesman John Wittman later issued a clarifying statement Friday, saying the directive doesn't order the denial of benefits to same-sex couples. He said it only "ensures that individuals doing business with the state cannot be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs."

Paxton in his statement Sunday says the justices "weakened the rule of law" and "fabricated a new constitutional right."

Texas was not part of the case before the Supreme Court. A federal judge in 2013 ruled that the state's ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional but declined to enforce the ruling while it was on appeal. Since Friday's ruling, a federal district court in Texas has prohibited Texas from enforcing state laws that define marriage as exclusively a union between one man and one woman.

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