AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Senate has preliminarily approved a hotly debated bill allowing county judges and other officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couple because of personal religious objections.

Sen. Brian Birdwell's proposal passed 21-10 on Tuesday but only applies in when other officials without objections can step in and issue marriage documents.

If the substituting official is located outside the county where the marriage license is being sought, documents could be sent electronically.

Texas Democrats and progressive groups say the bill sanctions discrimination and violates the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 legalization of gay marriage.

Birdwell, a Granbury Republican, counters that he's protecting the religious liberties of county clerks, justices of the peace and others. He says, "If we don't do this, we are discriminating against people of faith."

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