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Missouri attorney general candidate pledges to aid officials who oppose same-sex marriage

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Josh Hawley, a Republican candidate for Missouri attorney general, says that if he’s elected next year, he will act to protect county clerks who object to issuing same-sex marriage licenses.

In fact, “on Day One,” Hawley says he’ll issue an opinion allowing county clerks and others – such as recorders of deeds – to avoid issuing such licenses if it violates their religious beliefs.

Hawley -- on leave from his post as law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia -- contends that an existing Missouri law, called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protects public officials and business owners who have religious objections to same-sex marriage or other matters.

He says that clerks could allow deputies who don’t object to same-sex marriages to issue such licenses to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing same-sex marriage.

In any case, Hawley says it’s wrong to send county clerks to jail for failing to comply with the court’s decision. That’s been the fate of Kim Davis, the clerk in Kentucky who has gone to jail over her refusal to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

He says it’s a “tragedy’’ that a judge ordered that Davis go to jail. “Bottom line: the marriage issue is one we're still working through as a society, and no one should go to jail for their religious convictions on it,” he said.

Rival disagrees

Jake Zimmerman, one of the Democratic candidates for attorney general, takes issue with Hawley’s views. "The attorney general's job is to enforce the law, not to make it up as you go along,” Zimmerman said. “Marriage equality is the law of the land. If you don't understand that, you shouldn't be running for attorney general." So far, Zimmerman is the only one of Hawley’s opponents to comment on his stance.

Hawley believes his views are on solid legal footing.

“As attorney general, I will do on Day One what (incumbent Democrat) Chris Koster should have done months ago: issue a legal opinion protecting county clerks, other local office holders and business people of faith to the maximum extent possible under Missouri law,” Hawley said. “And I will fight for all people of faith in court -- all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.”

Hawley has some experience in arguing in favor of businesses with religious objections to laws or government regulations. He was part of the legal team that successfully helped Hobby Lobby win in a Supreme Court fight over the business’ objections to providing insurance coverage for certain types of contraception.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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