Officials in two US states have been told they do not have to issue same-sex marriage licences if doing so would go against their conscience.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a religious liberty organisation, advised clerks in Virginia and Oklahoma that they can lawfully delegate responsibility to deputies or assistants who do not have the same objections.
Kellie Fiedorek, an ADF lawyer, commented: “No one in America should be forced to choose between following their conscience and serving his or her employer”.
“The First Amendment protects the right to basic freedoms, including the freedom to live and work according to one’s conscience. These freedoms are guaranteed to every American, including those issuing marriage licenses”, she added.
ADF has already offered similar advice to clerks in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington.
The advice, stated in legal memos, explains that provisions to protect faith and conscience will not prevent the law on same-sex marriage being carried out.
The memos say: “Should a clerk encounter resistance to their efforts to resolve a conflict, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures that neither state nor county officials may impede clerks’ free exercise of religion.”
Officials were told they can contact ADF if they face legal difficulties over their duties to provide marriage licences.
Earlier this month, the US Supreme Court chose to allow gay marriages in Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana, bringing the total number of states which permit them to 24.
In the UK, the Deputy President of Supreme Court has suggested that the law should provide “reasonable accommodation” for a Christian’s beliefs.
Baroness Hale said it is “fascinating that a country with an established church can be less respectful of religious feelings than one without”.