Travis County issues Texas’ first same-sex marriage license

Supreme Court issues emergency order blocking other gay couples from getting marriage licenses

Photo Credit Joe Deshotel
Photo Credit Joe Deshotel

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An earlier court order from the State’s 167th Judicial District Court in Travis County directed County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir to issue a marriage license for a same-sex Austin couple Thursday. The order paved the way for Texas’ first same-sex marriage license.

Hours later, the Texas Supreme Court issued an emergency order blocking gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses. The ruling, however, did not appear to invalidate the marriage of Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who were allowed to marry based on the one-time court order because one of the women has cancer.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton disagreed, saying the same-sex marriage license issued by the clerk’s office is void, “just as any license issued in violation of state law would be.”

DeBeauvoir said the Supreme Court order stayed further proceedings in trial court and is not directed at the county clerk’s office.

“I have every reason to believe that the actions I took this morning were legally correct, based on the trial court’s order, and that the license my office issued was then and is now valid,” said DeBeauvoir. “There is no further action for me to take at this time.”

Debeauvoir says in addition to being a happy day, it is still a somber one as they await a final ruling — whether it comes from the U.S. Supreme Court or the Fifth Circuit. Debeauvoir says they need to wait for their rulings and want to send a respectful message.

“The Texas Constitution clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman,” Paxton added. “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.”

Gov. Greg Abbott echoed Paxton’s sentiments and said he is “committed to ensuring that the Texas Constitution is upheld.”

A spokeswoman for Paxton’s office said Thursday night that the state would file additional paperwork Friday, but it was unclear if the attorney general or his staff had the standing to make such a declaration unilaterally.

“We can’t control what the AG wants to do,” said Bryant, “and if they want to come in and try to undo this, they will, but we have a valid marriage license, and I don’t think they can.”

Judge David Wahlberg signed the order Thursday morning, which commanded Debeauvoir to immediately “cease and desist relying on the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license specifically to Plaintiffs Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant.”

“Dana Debeauvoir, with a court order, was able to make this possible,” said Goodfriend. “She has been a supporter of our family ever since back in the 90s when she started issuing domestic partnership registration for gay families.”

“We are all waiting  for a final decision on marriage equality.  However, this couple may not get the chance to hear the outcome of this issue because one person’s health,” said a statement from Travis County Elections office. “Therefore, a Travis County District Judge has ordered the County Clerk to act now in issuing a license for this medically fragile couple. It is important to note that this order applies only to the medically fragile couple who brought the court action. Any additional licenses issued to same sex couples also must be court ordered.”

Debeauvoir said the couple went through the normal procedure everyone goes through and said the process took only about 45 minutes. “And the couple had asked for, once they came in, that not a lot of fuss be made about this,” the county clerk added. “They wanted some dignity and some quiet in executing their marriage license.”

Debeauvoir says she’s not aware of any other couples seeking a court order at this time.

“I would not issue a license at this time to anyone without a court order,” said Debeauvoir. “I only had the one court order that applied to this one couple. I’m not going to speculate about what might happen in the future.”

The only court orders that Debeauvoir and her office would recognize come from district court orders or above, such as federal court orders.

Accompanied by a small group, the couple applied for and received the license Thursday, and a rabbi married the couple. Debeauvoir says the couple hadn’t had time to prepare, so they were kidding each other about not having to worry about a reception or what to wear because it all happened very quickly.

Debeauvoir added that in 1994, the county clerk’s office was then — and still is now — the only county clerk’s office in the state of Texas to have a domestic partner registry for insurance purposes.

“Those partnership registrations allowed people to go back to places like Dell, with their partners, and get insurance for their family,” added Goodfriend. “There’s so many things that come with marriage and recognition of our relationships, and so many people who have made this happen.”

A Travis County judge ruled Tuesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. However, Judge Guy Herman’s order did not instruct the county clerk’s office to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That order came with Judge Wahlberg’s temporary restraining order issued Thursday morning.

Last year, a federal judge declared Texas’ same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but stayed his own ruling pending appeal. The case is now being considered by a panel of the New Orleans-based U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to determine later this year whether gay marriage bans nationwide are unconstitutional.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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