Ken Paxton’s Still Trying to Unmarry Austin Lesbian Couple


Sarah Goodfriend (center left) and her wife, Suzanne Bryant with their daughters, Dawn (left) and Ting (right) hold a press conference hours after becoming the first same-sex couple to legally marry in Texas.
Sarah Goodfriend (center left) and her wife, Suzanne Bryant with their daughters, Dawn (left) and Ting (right) hold a press conference in February, hours after a judge blocked Texas’ same-sex marriage ban so the couple could wed.  Jen Reel

Despite the Supreme Court’s June ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is still trying to undo a lesbian couple’s February marriage.

Austinites Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend, who’ve been together for more than 30 years, obtained a marriage license February 19 from the Travis County Clerk’s Office.

In part because Goodfriend had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, state District Judge David Wahlberg barred the clerk’s office from enforcing Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, which he declared unconstitutional.

In granting the restraining order, Wahlberg wrote that Goodfriend’s “health condition strongly militates in favor of issuing immediate relief.”

After obtaining a stay of Wahlberg’s decision from the Texas Supreme Court, the AG’s office sought a ruling voiding the couple’s marriage, but the court hasn’t yet acted on that request.

“Since that case is pending, our public filings speak for themselves,” Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer wrote to the Observer last week in response to questions about why the AG’s office hasn’t dismissed the case after the Obergefell ruling.

Although it’s seeking to void the couple’s marriage, the AG’s office maintains in court filings that the case is about procedural issues, not a challenge to constitutional rights. For example, the AG argues that Wahlberg should have notified Paxton’s office before declaring the marriage ban unconstitutional, and that the couple failed to show “immediate and irreparable harm.”

“These clear abuses of discretion would not be vindicated or absolved by a ruling from the Court or the United States Supreme Court that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right,” the AG’s office wrote in May. “Silence or inaction from the Court will signal to the bench, bar, and public that Texas courts may be manipulated for political gain.”

In court filings, the couple’s attorneys — who declined comment for this piece — dispute the state’s procedural claims. They also argue the Texas Supreme Court lacks jurisdiction since the couple nonsuited the case immediately after the marriage license was issued.  

In an e-mail to the Observer, Bryant said that she and her wife are currently “unable to focus our efforts on the Texas Supreme Court.” She continued: “We are married and that is the end of the story. Period. We expect the Texas Supreme Court and the Texas AG to follow the law of the land as laid down by [the Supreme Court]. That is the beauty of our democracy with checks and balances.”

The case is one of at least two in which the AG’s office has continued to oppose a same-sex marriage following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in favor of marriage equality.

In August, the AG’s office sought to block a lesbian widow from inheriting her deceased partner’s estate. But a Travis County probate judge ruled against the state, upholding the couple’s common-law marriage.

Also in August, the state finally agreed to issue accurate birth and death certificates to same-sex couples after a federal district judge threatened to hold Ken Paxton in contempt. The gay widower who initiated that case, John Stone-Hoskins, died from cancer in October.