The courtship between Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant that began 30 years ago at a Kate Clinton concert in North Carolina became a legal marriage today with their teenage daughters Dawn and Ting witnessing the event outside the Travis County Courthouse.
“It’s an important day for everyone who believes in justice and equality,” Bryant said later at a news conference at the law office of Jan Soifer, chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party.
Goodfriend and Bryant became the first same-sex couple to be married legally in Texas at 9:30 a.m., when they exchanged vows in a ceremony conducted by Rabbi Kerry Baker. Minutes earlier, state Judge David Wahlberg ordered Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue a marriage license to the couple.
By the end of the day, however, Attorney General Ken Paxton claimed the Texas Supreme Court had voided the couple’s marriage. However, a statement by the Supreme Court raised doubts about Paxton’s claims.
The wedding ceremony followed a series of events that began Tuesday when a Travis County probate judge ruled in an estate case that the Texas ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
The Travis County clerk said Tuesday that the probate court ruling was not enough to authorize her to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Bryant and Goodfriend, however, saw a narrow legal window and sued the county.
The couple argued that they faced irreparable harm because they had no way to enforce their right to marry. They claimed the severity and uncertainty of circumstances related to Goodfriend’s health made time an issue for them. Goodfriend is continuing chemotherapy after emergency surgery last May for ovarian cancer.
They asked Wahlberg to issue a restraining order that would waive the usual 72-hour waiting period, and he did.
“Given the urgency and other circumstances in this case and the ongoing violation of plaintiff’s rights,” Wahlberg wrote in the order, “the court has concluded that good cause exists to move forward with the marriage.”
Goodfriend described a bittersweet moment and noted that thousands of similar same-sex families in Texas still cannot be married.
The events heighten the stakes for state leaders who have spoken strongly against same-sex marriage in recent years as more and more states recognize the change on their own or are forced to accept it by court order.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton are all on record opposing same-sex marriage. Paxton asked the Texas Supreme Court to void the marriage and by the end of the day he was claiming it had done so.
“The Court’s action upholds our state constitution and stays these rulings by activist judges in Travis County,” he said in a statement. “The same-sex marriage license issued by the Travis County Clerk is void, just as any license issued in violation of state law would be. I will continue to defend the will of the people of Texas, who have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, against any judicial activism or overreach.”
Texas voters amended the state constitution in 2005 to define marriage as consisting “only of the union of one man and one woman.”
However, a federal judge in San Antonio ruled last year that the ban was unconstitutional and the case is under review by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear separate cases that will decide whether states can make same-sex marriage unconstitutional and whether states that don’t allow same-sex marriage have to honor marriages performed legally in other states.
Bryant, a successful lawyer with an impressive record of public-interest work, said they made the decision to go forward with the suit because they didn’t want to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court and they aren’t overly concerned about the attorney general’s statements.
“We can’t control what the AG’s office wants to do, but we have a valid marriage license and I don’t think they can (take it away),” she said.
They deferred questions about how the legal change might affect their family to their daughters.
“We’re still a family,” said Dawn Goodfriend. “It’s just now other people can see us as a family.”
“It doesn’t feel any different. It’s always been this way,” Ting Goodfriend said.