The openly gay judge told a meeting of the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas that until she is legally able to marry a woman in Texas, she will not officiate at heterosexual weddings.
The Stonewall Democrats of Texas met last Tuesday. According to the organization's website, they are a group of politically active Democrats that promote the goals of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community. Their work involves "sensitizing" the party's candidates to LGBT issues and encouraging members of the community to become politically active.
Judge Tonya Parker, the presiding judge of the 116th Civil District Court, was quoted in the Dallas Voice as telling the audience that she explains to couples why she will not marry them, hoping to educate them about marriage equality. She then immediately refers them to another judge who will perform the wedding ceremony.
After her remarks were initially reported in the Dallas Voice, the story was picked up by other national and international media sources. As reported by the NBC affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth, this led to the judge issuing the following statement on Thursday, I faithfully and fully perform all my duties as the Presiding Judge of the 116th Civil District Court, where it is my honor to serve the citizens of Dallas County and the parties who have matters before the Court. Performing marriage ceremonies is not a duty that I have as the Presiding Judge of a civil district court. It is a right and privilege invested in me under the Family Code. I choose not to exercise it, as many other Judges do not exercise it. Because it is not part of our duties, some Judges even charge a fee to perform the ceremonies.
Parker insists she is not doing anything wrong by refusing to perform the ceremonies. Under the Texas Family Code, District Court Judges are "authorized persons" under the section that sets out who can legally officiate at weddings. Section 2.203(a) of the Code states, On receiving an unexpired marriage licence, an authorized person may conduct the marriage ceremony as provided by this subchapter.
The use of the word "may" instead of the mandatory "shall" supports Parker's position that she is not obligated to perform a wedding ceremony if she doesn't want to. Undoubtedly if marriage equality is ever enacted in the state, some judges will use that interpretation to refuse to perform same sex marriages on religious grounds.
Parker was first elected to the court last year. It is believed she is the first openly gay African-American elected official in Texas.