Amid news reports state and local officials are continuing to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples — and in some cases are shutting down operations entirely — a group of 57 House Democrats is seeking action from the Justice Department to ensure compliance with the U.S. Supreme Court decision for same-sex marriage.
In a letter dated July 9, the group of Democratic lawmakers led by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) calls on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to take steps to enforce the ruling and ensure same-sex couples can obtain a marriage license in all 50 states.
“The state and local officials standing in the way of marriage equality for all are standing on the wrong side of history,” Pocan said in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s ruling was clear: Marriage equality is a right enshrined in the Constitution. Denying same-sex couples their constitutionally protected rights is backwards and has no place in our democracy. This contempt for people who want nothing more than to be happy with their loved ones is an affront to our Constitution.”
The letter doesn’t specify what action the Justice Department should take to ensure clerks afford marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but nonetheless urges “appropriate steps” and “any actions necessary.”
“Families across the country that gained legal recognition for the first time as a result of this decision have waited long enough to be treated as equals under the law,” the letter says. “When opponents of marriage equality attempt to disregard the Court’s clear ruling, real families are denied their constitutionally protected rights. As such, we urge you to take any actions necessary to ensure same-sex couples are afforded immediate and complete access to the rights and responsibilities bestowed by the Supreme Court.”
Each of the six openly LGB members of the U.S. House — Pocan, Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — signed the missive. No Republicans signed the letter.
A House aide said the letter was circulated to all members of Congress, but no Republicans signed on. Potential actions, the House aide said, could include withholding funds from programs that state and local officials administer to exert political and financial pressure. The aide said that was a tactic the Justice Department used to ensure federal recognition of same-sex marriage last year after the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.
Numerous media outlets have reported state and local officials are refusing to give marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or all couples, following the Supreme Court decision. In Kentucky, a group of 57 clerks led by Lawrence County Clerk Chris Jobe are calling for a special session of the state legislature to address conflicts they say exist between their religious beliefs and the job duties. Also in that state, a same-sex couple captured a clerk in Rowan County in the act of denying them a marriage license on video, which is going viral.
According to the pro-LGBT Campaign for Southern Equality, 13 out of 67 counties in Alabama have stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether after the Supreme Court marriage decision. In Tennessee, all three staffers at the clerk’s office in Decatur County have chosen to resign rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
The 57 House Democrats aren’t the only ones raising the possibility of the Justice Department taking steps to compel local officials to comply with the marriage ruling. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly said the Justice Department may have to take legal action.
“It took a period of time after other major civil-rights holdings by the Supreme Court before all states came into compliance,” Holder is quoted as saying. “So yes, there’s potentially a role for the Justice Department to play.”
Holder added he hopes “it doesn’t come to that” and federal officials should wait a few months to let the ruling sink in before taking action.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has previously referred questions on potential acts to enforce the marriage decision to the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokesperson didn’t respond on short notice to comment on the letter.