A clerk in Texas issued a marriage license to a same-sex couple from Austin on Thursday, granting what is thought to be the first such legal license issued in the state since voters banned gay marriage a decade ago.
In response, the state’s attorney general asked the Texas Supreme Court to halt any same-sex marriage activity, and the court issued an emergency stay on Thursday afternoon. The Texas attorney general also declared the historic marriage license void on Thursday.
The marriage license was issued in response to a district judge’s order in Travis County, which is home to Austin, the state capital. District Judge David Wahlberg ordered the license for Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, the Austin couple, because one of the women has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“We are all waiting for a final decision on marriage equality,” the Travis County Clerk’s office said in a statement. “However, this couple may not get the chance to hear the outcome of this issue because [of] one person’s health.”
The license was issued at about 9:30 this morning, a spokeswoman for the clerk’s office said. She said that as far as they know, it is the first same-sex marriage license issued in Texas.
Legal experts and groups that track same-sex marriage told The Post on Thursday that Goodfriend and Bryant are the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license from the Texas government, though the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas pointed out that there was a same-sex marriage recorded in 1972.
— Nicole Chavez (@NicoleChavz) February 19, 2015
As a result of the judge’s order, Dana DeBeauvoir, the county clerk, issued a license to the couple. However, her office also noted that this would not translate into a wider issuance of marriage licenses, saying that a court order would be required for every other couple seeking a license.
“It is important to note that this order applies only to the medically fragile couple who brought the court action,” the clerk’s office said. “Any additional licenses issued to same sex couples also must be court ordered.”
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to stop any movement on same-sex marriage in an emergency motion filed Thursday, and the court issued an emergency stay order halting other same-sex marriages.
Paxton said at one point on Thursday he was seeking to void the marriage license issued to Goodfriend and Bryant, asserting later in the day that their license “is void, just as any license issued in violation of state law would be.”
“The law of Texas has not changed, and will not change due to the whims of any individual judge or county clerk operating on their own capacity anywhere in Texas,” Paxton said in a statement. “Activist judges don’t change Texas law and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state and will ensure that any licenses issued contrary to law are invalid.”
Paxton’s comments added confusion to the day’s news. While he said the license issued hours earlier was void, the Texas Supreme Court’s order did not mention this particular license. Charles Herring, an attorney for the couple, told the Austin American-Statesman that voiding the license was itself “legally invalid.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a statement Thursday quoting from the state constitution’s definition of marriage and noting that the amendment was easily approved. “I am committed to ensuring that the Texas Constitution is upheld and that the rule of law is maintained in the State of Texas,” he said.
In addition to needing a judge’s order to receive a marriage license, Goodfriend and Bryant had to get a waiver so they could get married immediately. The Texas Family Code says that couples must wait three days after the marriage license is issued to get married, but that can be bypassed with a written waiver signed by a judge, which happened Thursday for Goodfriend and Bryant. They were married before a rabbi, reciting their vows in front of the county clerk’s office.
“We are grateful to have had this opportunity to crack the door open in Texas,” Bryant said at a news conference. “We hope it will swing open for everyone very soon.”
Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant feel thankful but know more needs to be done. pic.twitter.com/vEvm0Ggmhn
— Nicole Chavez (@NicoleChavz) February 19, 2015
Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman had ruled Tuesday that the Texas same-sex marriage ban was unconstitutional. While DeBeauvoir said Tuesday that she commended Herman, she said her office was not issuing marriage licenses at that time because he did not issue that instruction.
Paxton had responded to Herman by asking the Texas Supreme Court to overturn what he called the “misguided” ruling in a statement on Wednesday. The petition Paxton’s office filed Wednesday with the Texas Supreme Court called the ruling “unnecessary and overly broad.”
This petition also pointed to the unusual situation that occurred in Michigan, where hundreds of same-sex marriages were carried out during a brief window last year. Court action quickly halted any additional same-sex marriages after those weddings, but Gov. Rick Snyder (R) had said that he would not give these couples state marriage benefits; earlier this month, he relented in the face of a federal judge’s ruling and said the state would provide these couples benefits.
Last week, there was considerable confusion in Alabama after a federal judge struck down the ban on same-sex marriage, only for the state’s chief justice to order probate judges not to give gay couples marriage licenses. The ensuing situation was muddled, with some probate judges issuing licenses and others refusing, before a federal judge again ordered probate judges to issue marriage licenses. As a result, numerous counties that had previously refused to issue licenses began giving them out.
The U.S. Supreme Court is going to consider the issue of same-sex marriage this spring, as the justices said they will hear cases from Michigan and three other states and determine whether same-sex marriages should be allowed in all states. More than 70 percent of Americans live in states where same-sex marriages are now allowed.
You can read the order allowing Thursday’s marriage license in Texas here:
And Paxton’s Supreme Court motion filed in response:
[This post has been updated with new information. First published: 2:05 p.m. Last updated: 5:55 p.m.]