Gay Marriage Arrives in Texas
Update June 29, 4:10 p.m.: After a weekend spent celebrating Obergefell v. Hodges, the historic Supreme Court ruling recognizing same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, James Obergefell and an array of supporters gathered at the Texas Capitol today to do a little bit more celebrating and reflect on what comes next. Surrounded by rainbow banners and equality flags, Obergefell shrugged off the fact that his name is in the title of such a momentous case.
“The important thing is that the Supreme Court moved this forward,” he said. “Friday was a great day. That’s what’s important. … My name doesn’t matter one bit to me. It’s what my name represents. My name could be Smith, I wouldn’t care.”
Obergefell said Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion that county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses to gay couples is only a minor damper on the celebratory mood.
“Your freedom of religion has no weight or compromise, or is lessened by this ruling,” he said. “You still have the right to live your life and believe what you want to believe. My marriage does not impact that, does not threaten that.”
Supporters said the struggle for LGBT equality was far from over. In particular, activists said they planned to push for new local, state and federal non-discrimination protections.
In Texas, same-sex couples can now legally marry but people can still be legally fired from jobs or denied housing simply because of their sexual orientation. Recent efforts to extend local non-discrimination ordinances in Texas cities have met organized resistance by religious-right organizations.
Paraphrasing Harvey Milk, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said bigotry is still a big problem outside gay-friendly enclaves.
“He would say, ‘What about the young LGBT person in Altoona, Pennsylvania, that I told you about in 1973? What about the lesbian couple raising kids in Alabama? What about the transgender public school teachers in rural Texas?’ And even after this 50-state marriage victory of the Supreme Court—and I know you know this—but in most states in this country, including Texas, a couple who gets married at 10 a.m. could be fired from their job by noon and evicted from their homes by two, all in the same day simply for posting that photo on Facebook.”
For Nicole Dimetman and Cleo De Leon, the Austin couple who were plaintiffs in a now-moot challenge to Texas’ constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, much work remains to be done to protect the rights of LGBT parents.
“So right now, I’m on one of our children’s birth certificates and Cleo is on the other,” said Dimetman. “I’m on the birth certificate of our daughter because I am her biological parent and even though we are married at the time that we had both of our children, the other person couldn’t be on the birth certificate and that’s not the case with heterosexual married couples.”—Allison Rubenak
Update June 29, 8:30 a.m.: Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) is asking Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to end all marriage licenses in the state. Read his full release here.—John Wright
Update June 28: Attorney General Ken Paxton has released his opinion on whether county clerks can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and whether judges and justices of the peace can refuse to perform ceremonies. He concludes that they can, but may face litigation. Read the opinion below. Also, Supreme Court marriage equality plaintiff Jim Obergefell will be at the Texas Capitol on Monday for a press conference on the north steps at 10 a.m.—John Wright
Update June 27: The words “good evening” were all it took to set the crowd in Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church erupting with claps and hollers Friday night.
At the celebration of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, Austin Mayor Steve Adler and state Sen. Kirk Watson, joined gay rights activists in speaking to a crowd that came ready with rainbow beads, rainbow flags and posters reading, “America is ready for the freedom to marry.”
Adler declared June 26, 2015, as “Marriage Equality Day,” and expressed his support for the court ruling and Austin’s LGBT community more generally.
“Today is all about equality and liberty and fundamental rights. In the end, today is about ‘love wins,’” Adler said. “What a wonderful day to be mayor of Austin. I heard, much to my distress, this morning, that mayors in Texas do not have the power to conduct weddings. But mayors do have the power to issue proclamations, and I brought one with me here today.”
Adler’s proclamation quoted from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges: “‘No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.’”
Watson reminded the crowd to be thankful and let the day’s news soak in.
“It really is wonderful to live in a place where people feel for people the way they do here, and where we can celebrate the love that we have for one another. It’s not often that we have moments of just sheer joy,” Watson said. “This is one of those moments.”
For Texans living in counties that have so far hesitated to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Nick Hudson of Texas for Marriage encouraged patience.
“Marriage is the law of the land, and county clerks will begin following the law across the state. And all of the talk about the delays, it’s going to happen, and it’s just dramatic theater, and we can rest assured that everyone and the state of Texas will have the freedom to marry very, very soon.”
Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, called out public officials on their reaction towards the Supreme Court ruling.
“Absolutely nothing that Gov. Abbott or Attorney General Paxton do will damper the joy that thousands of people across this state have because they are now celebrating their constitutional right to marry the person that they love,” Smith said. “And while religious liberty is indeed a fundamental principle that is protected by the U.S. Constitution, it is not now nor will it ever be an excuse for any public official to shirk their responsibilities and the oath that they take of their office to uphold the Constitution of the United States.”
Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra DeLeon, two plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit over Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, stood together at the podium to talk about their journey.
“During this process, we gave birth to our second child,” Dimetman said. “The labor was scary. … If I hadn’t made it through the childbirth, our child would have been an orphan, and Cleo would not have been our daughter’s legal mother because our family was not respected in Texas. No parent, no parent should have to face those struggles and stresses because their marriage isn’t recognized in their home.”
DeLeon made a broader point about discrimination in the country today.
“We were finally given the right to get married, but the fact is, we still have people out there who don’t like us,” she said. “And it’s important to remain vigilant, if you find that your civil rights are being violated, don’t roll over and be a doormat. Stand up for yourselves. That’s what we did, and look where we are today.” —Lyanne Guarecuco
Update at 6:24: After hours of uncertainty, Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at about 3 p.m. Friday. Several couples had been waiting in line all day to get their licenses.
And several couples were immediately married by District Court Judge Kyle Carter, who waived the 72-hour waiting period usually required after a couple obtains a license.
Carter said that he performed wedding ceremonies for five same-sex couples, most of which had already been married in other states where same-sex marriage is legal.
Ashley Creath and Jacquey Creath, who were married nine years ago in New York, went straight to Carter’s 125th District Court after obtaining their marriage license. Both women wept during the ceremony. Ashley changed her last name to Creath several years ago in Bexar County.
“I feel like we matter. I feel like our rights are now being protected. And, I feel married,” Jacquey Creath said.
Ashley Creath said, “I finally feel protected. I feel like we will be able to get the same protections as everyone else.”
Carter said that he felt that it was “a privilege and an honor” to preside over the weddings on Friday.
“I am happy to be a part of the processes whereby people obtain equal rights across this country,” Carter said.
Carter said he “got goose bumps” when performing the ceremonies.
Carter waived the 72-hour waiting period because, he said, “I found there to be good cause. Everybody who came to me today had been together for a while. They had waited long enough.”
Another Houston couple, Kevin Hoffman and Jesus Gonzalez who were married in California in 2008, did not obtain a marriage license, but signed “an affirmation” that their 6-year marriage was valid in the state of Texas. The document they got at the Harris County clerk’s office is a “dissolution of the recognition of informal marriage.”
“We wanted to come here today to have the state of Texas recognize the life we have shared together,” Hoffman said. “Basically, we have back-dated all the time that we have shared together.” —Anne Marie Kilday
Update at 6:03: In some corners of the state, same-sex couples were still unable to get married today despite the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling.
Tyler resident D. Karen Wilkerson was feeling a mix of happiness and anger this afternoon after she said Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips refused to issue a marriage license to her and partner Jolie Smith.
The couple tried again this afternoon, but was turned down a second time. They now have a team of attorneys working to file a writ in federal court to compel the county clerk to act, Wilkerson said.
Smith County will not issue marriage applications for same sex couples “until the state issues new forms,” the Tyler Morning Telegraph reported.
There has been some question about the labeling of “man” and “woman” on marriage applications and whether clerks need to wait for the state to change them. However, many counties are proceeding with altered forms.
Wilkerson, 64, and Smith, 51, both longtime residents of Smith County and friends for 20 years, have been together for about a year and a half. They made a decision to marry, but wanted to wait until they could tie the knot in the county they call home.
“There are no words to express the level of sorrow and rage that we have, while at the same time we have just incredible sense of celebration and joy and triumph for our LGBT brothers and sisters all over the country,” Wilkerson said. “So it’s a really difficult mixture of emotions.” —Teresa Mioli
Update at 5:11: The list of Texas counties issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples continues to grow.
It now includes at least 18 counties: Bexar, Brazoria, Cameron, Dallas, El Paso, Hale, Harris, Hidalgo, Lamar, Limestone, Midland, McLennan, Nueces, Tarrant, Travis, Webb, Wichita and Willacy. Some counties, such as Hays County, have said they plan on issuing licenses as soon forms or software are updated rather than waiting for guidance from Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Update at 4:21: A press conference in Austin following this morning’s landmark Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage seemed like perfect timing for Vic Holmes to pop the question.
“I’m not actually sure that it’s ever been said, so I’m saying it now: Will you marry me?” Holmes asked, while holding partner Mark Phariss’ hand before more than a dozen camera crews and reporters.
Phariss said yes—another reason to celebrate for the Plano couple who joined two Austin women in challenging Texas’ same-sex marriage ban in federal court.
Holmes, Phariss, Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra DeLeon were joined by their lawyer Neel Lane and Executive Director of Equality Texas Chuck Smith to talk about what the Supreme Court ruling meant for Texas. They have filed a motion with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to formally strike down Texas’ ban.
“Sometimes it’s good to cause a little trouble. I kept thinking about that this morning,” Dimetman said. “As I was growing up, my mom who raised me and who is no longer with us today, she’d be so proud of me and she’d be so proud of us. She always said, ‘You’ve gotta be a good girl, you’ve gotta follow the rules, but sometimes, it is good to cause a little bit of trouble.’ And I’m really happy to be with ya’ll today, but I can’t wait to get out there and go to the clerk’s office and see all the people getting marriage licenses today.”
Phariss said he, too, had been thinking of his parents today.
“My parents, this past Monday, if they were alive today, would have celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary. The last one that they celebrated was their 46th. Vic and I never dreamed that we would ever be able to celebrate one of those wedding anniversaries. And now we can, thanks to the Supreme Court. The only downside is, they took so long that I’ll be 101 before I can celebrate my 46th,” Phariss joked.
Smith noted that while today’s ruling was a major accomplishment, Texas still does not have a statewide prohibition of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“We face the very real possibility that couples can now go get married, go on their honeymoon, and return and place a wedding photograph at their desk at work, and if they weren’t previously out, they could be legally fired from their job for no other reason than their sexual orientation. As I said, we celebrate today, but there is very much, very real work that still needs to be done in the state of Texas in order to ensure and to eliminate legalized discrimination that still exists in Texas based on sexual orientation and gender,” Smith said.
Lane is anticipating calls to extend religious-freedom protections to government officials who object to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“Now, I understand individuals may have problems, they may have a difficult time accepting same-sex unions and gays and lesbians as their neighbors, and as their coworkers, but when you’re a state official in the state of Texas, you swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, in addition to the laws and the Constitution of Texas. If your personal beliefs forbid you from keeping that oath, then you need to step down. You do not have a religious right to violate the oath you took as an official in the state of Texas,” Lane said.
Dimetman said she respected those who disagreed with the court’s ruling.
“I feel for you,” she said, “because in your heart today, you’re very sad, and I completely understand that your beliefs are genuine, that many of you are not opposed to this because you hate me personally, it’s just the system of beliefs under which you’ve been raised. And I am sorry, I am sorry that my happiness today is causing you distress. But you don’t have to approve necessarily of my family.”
Phariss, who has been friends with Gov. Greg Abbott since they were in law school together, had yet to see Abbott’s remarks on the ruling.
“I certainly respect whatever his views are,” Phariss said, “and I’m confident he will, because I know Greg Abbott, that he will respect the U.S. Constitution, that he will not interfere with LGBT Americans, Texan’s ability to marry in the state of Texas.”
A reporter asked Phariss whether he and Holmes planned to invite Abbott to their wedding. His response was brief: “I don’t think that would be prudent.” —Lyanne Guarecuco
Update at 3:58: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants to let county clerks, justices of the peace and judges refuse to participate in same-sex marriages based on religious beliefs.
In a statement issued Friday afternoon, Patrick said he’s asking Attorney General Ken Paxton to expand the so-called “Pastor Protection Act,” which passed this year and reaffirms existing protections for clergy members who refuse refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
“My request broadens the scope of SB 2065 to include County Clerks, judges and Justices of the Peace who may be forced to issue a marriage license or preside over a wedding that is against the free exercise of their religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Patrick said. “It has been said that those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history. I would rather be on the wrong side of history than on the wrong side of my faith and my beliefs. I believe I am not alone in that view in this country.” —John Wright
Update at 3:55:
Issuing licenses: Bexar Brazoria Cameron Dallas El Paso Harris Hildalgo Lamar Limestone Midland McLennan Nueces Tarrant Travis Webb Willacy
— The Texas Observer (@TexasObserver) June 26, 2015
Update at 3:54: In line at the Bexar County courthouse, Norma De la Cruz couldn’t keep a dry eye.
“It was like love at first sight honestly,” Norma said.
Norma and Janie De la Cruz, who have been together for almost two decades, had their wedding ceremony in the Metropolitan Community Church in Amarillo on February 16, 2002. Today they made the marriage legal.
“I’ve got two older kids as well. We had never had a baby, so we moved up [to San Antonio], we changed careers, so we came down here and we got a house and we ended up having our son,” Norma said. “We went and hired an attorney so we could change [Janie’s] name so that we could have rights in case she was in the hospital. Everything that comes along with being married, we had to work for ahead of time, so this means a lot to us.”
Norma held up her ticket for the line, no. 158. “I didn’t even ask [when they’d be issuing marriage licenses]. I’ll wait here all day,” she said. “We didn’t know if it was going to happen of not, but this is so exciting. It’s a big thing. It’s a really big thing. People don’t realize how big a thing it is.”
Dean Shaw, 59, a friend of the couple, arrived at the courthouse with a bouquet of colorful flowers to show his support for his friends. Shaw, a coworker of Norma’s, said he’d been ready to call Norma as soon as heard the Supreme Court’s decision. “I called to give them a message and by the time I arrived to the office, they had already split.” Shaw, who is gay, said he was speechless after hearing the decision.
“Nothing feels like the legitimacy of the Supreme Court saying you are equal in the eyes of the law, and so I’m thrilled for them,” he said. “I can’t believe that we’ve fought this hard and felt like we were the underbelly of society for so long in regards to our sexuality and our human rights. … It’s a wonderful day for all. This is a good day for America and American families.” —Allison Rubenak
Update at 3:41:
Updated: Counties issuing licenses: Bexar √ Dallas √ El Paso √ Hidalgo √ Midland √ Tarrant √ Travis √ McLennan √ Webb √ Nueces √ Harris √ — The Texas Observer (@TexasObserver) June 26, 2015
Update at 3:11: Texas anti-LGBT groups pledged on Friday to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
Texas Values called the high court’s decision “the most egregious form of judicial activism of our time,” and said it will only further divide America. The group said county clerks should wait for guidance from Attorney General Ken Paxton before issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and alleged that altering application forms is a criminal offense.
“This decision has no basis in the text of the Constitution and will never be accepted by millions of Americans and Texans that understand that marriage, by nature and God’s design, can only be the union of a man and woman, husband and wife, mother and father. No decision by five judges can ever alter this fundamental truth,” Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz said in a statement.
The Texas Pastor Council also said the decision “violates the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” adding that the Supreme Court has “no jurisdiction to redefine or undefine an institution that preceded its own existence.” The council reiterated its demand for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special session of the Legislature to respond to the decision.
State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) also got in on the action, sending out a fundraising email accompanied by a rainbow-colored map of the U.S., with Texas grayed out.
“If the federal government thinks that Texas is going to go down without a fight, they’ve got another thing coming,” Huffines wrote. “We will continue to fight for our states’ rights, but I cannot do this without your support.” —John Wright
Update at 2:53: During the legislative session, the Observer reported that state Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University) became the first Texas GOP lawmaker to openly support same-sex marriage when she refused to sign an anti-gay marriage letter penned by her Republican colleagues. After today’s Supreme Court decision, she maintained that support, posting the following statement to her Facebook page:
“I celebrate the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on behalf of marriage equality. Marriage is a union in which two loving people commit to affirm, love and uphold one another, in any and all conditions. As such, marriage is not defined by a person’s sexual orientation, but their willingness to make that vow. Any American, of any orientation, should not be denied that right. I applaud the court for its courage, and I congratulate the many loving couples in HD 134 who can now legally marry.”
Update at 2:47: Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced this afternoon that his office would, after all, start issuing licenses to same-sex couples at 3 p.m. today.
Earlier, Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan had said he would seek a court order compelling Stanart to issue licenses, according to Sue Davis, a spokeswoman for Ryan.
In a letter to Stanart, Ryan wrote that the Supreme Court’s decision requires the Harris County clerk to set aside the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“Our opinion is the law requires you immediately begin to issue marriage licenses to all qualified applicants without regard to gender. Until updated forms are supplied by the Bureau of Vital Statistics, the current marriage license form may be used by all applicants,” Ryan’s letter read.
Ryan also said the current license applications would comply with the Texas Family Code. Stanart had hesitated on the grounds that his office had yet to receive updated forms.
Justice of the Peace Dale Gorczynski said he would be “very honored” to be the first Harris County JP to perform a marriage ceremony for a same-sex couple. Gorczynski said that his daughter, who is gay, had to travel to Maine to get married.
“This Supreme Court ruling is a dream come true for those of us who have been on the front lines of the LGBT equality movement,” he said.
Gorczynski said that he is “ready to marry any couple that comes into my office with any marriage license issued by any county in the state of Texas. … I just hope that officials of the state of Texas do not waste taxpayer money on frivolous attacks on a very good and a very important Supreme Court decision.” —Anne Marie Kilday
Update at 2:24: As Bexar County began issuing its marriage licenses today, a small woman in a gray dress raised her hand and shouted, “Does anyone need a minister to officiate?”
Leilani Long, an interdenominational ordained minster, said she hopped in the car the moment she heard the ruling—she’d set out her clothes the night before—and drove to the courthouse.
“I thought I would do a whole bunch, but I came in and I met Liz and Gabby and their son Langston and I started hanging out with them and they asked that I stay with them the whole time so we could get to know each other because they wanted it to have a little more depth than just a judge,” she said.
“I thought what was really beautiful about them was they had been married, both spiritually and emotionally, for two years and so now they were just waiting for the [state] to have that support of their relationship and their son as well,” Long said.
Looking at the crowd this morning, Long said she was struck by the range of ages among those in line.
“There were two women, one of which was using a walker, both gray of hair, and seeing them next to these younger couples in their twenties, and seeing that the heart is the same in both of them,” Long said. “Both sets of couples are equally excited to be together and to have this right.”
Republican Bexar County Judge Eugenia “Genie” Wright married the first gay couple to get a license in San Antonio late this morning.
“I am an elected official. I took an oath to follow the law, and if the law permits same-sex marriages, I’m going to do it,” Wright said. “OK, who first?”
Jon Truho and Larry Stern, both in red polo shirts, exchanged rings and shared a long embrace. They have been together for 17 years and were previously married in San Francisco, but were able to marry in Texas today.
Chief Deputy County Clerk Tom Koenig says that as of 2:15 p.m., 120 marriage licenses have been issued in Bexar County, however there is no distinction being made between same-sex and heterosexual couples. —Allison Rubenak
Update at 2:10: In San Antonio this morning, the Bexar County courthouse was bustling. Couples lined up, some with children, others with a family member or friends. Reporters swarmed the small space where they waited, but nobody in line seemed to mind.
Elizabeth Moseley, 35, waited excitedly with her 5-month-old son Langston in tow, and her partner Gabby Bonar, 29. They were among the first issued marriage licenses in San Antonio today.
Moseley said she was making coffee early this morning—today was Bonar’s turn to sleep in, she said—when she saw a text from a friend letting her know that the Supreme Court had overturned state bans on same-sex marriage.
“I ran to the bedroom and woke Gabby up and was just like, ‘Oh my God! We’re getting married today!’ And you know the first thing we thought was, like, we need to go get our marriage license,” Moseley said. “She woke up. I cried. She cried. We hugged a lot and we just couldn’t believe that marriage was legal across the United States.”
Again and again as she spoke, Moseley nodded to kiss the top of Langston’s head. It was a morning of “jubilation,” she said.
Moseley and Bonar, who live in San Antonio, met on the dating site OkCupid and married in Ohio at Bonar’s family farm in June 2013. Moseley gave birth to Langston in January this year.
Bonar said the couple knew how difficult it would be for her to legally adopt the boy—the couple is represented by Austin attorney Suzanne Bryant, who along with her wife Sarah Goodfriend in February, were granted a marriage license in Travis County earlier this year—but they weren’t prepared for how expensive the fight would be.
“It just feels so invasive and unfair, and someone has to come into our house and pretty much judge us and see if we’re fit parents or not,” Moseley said. “So we’re just hoping that this is one step in that we can both be legal parents for our next child, just have rights to our own kids.” —Allison Rubenak
Update at 1:35: Dallas County issued its first marriage license to a gay couple just before noon, to Jack Evans and George Harris, who have been together 54 years.
After obtaining their license, Evans and Harris were married by District Judge Dennise Garcia, who is the wife of the pastor at the couple’s church.
Officials then began calling couples in five at a time to process their applications. By noon, 68 couples had applied for licenses. Clerk John Warren said he planned to keep the downtown office open until 6:30 p.m.
“Once the dust has settled and we’re not having to deal with any other customers and any other business, from 4:30 to 6:30, we’ll be able to able to process a lot more quickly. We can manage this. It may seem a little chaotic, but we can manage this,” Warren said.
The Observer asked Warren why it took the county almost three hours to issue a license after the Supreme Court issued its opinion. “My legal counsel is very thorough, and he wanted to read the entire opinion, even the dissenting opinion,” he said.
Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement Thursday encouraging clerks to wait for his guidance before issuing licenses, but Warren said his decision deferred to a higher authority. “I can appreciate what the attorney general was trying to do, but the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. When the Supreme Court issues an opinion, there’s nothing left to discuss,” he said.
Warren said he asked a number of state officials whether they plan to modify marriage license application forms—which are pre-formatted with blanks for the “male” and “female” partners’ names—but got no guidance. As a result, he advised couples to simply modify the forms on their own.
“We didn’t get a response saying we’re working on it, we didn’t get a response saying we’re looking it. It was absolutely no response.”
Judge Garcia said she was good friends with the Rev. Bill McElvaney, who performed a wedding ceremony for Evans and Harris last year and was then sanctioned by the Methodist church. McElvaney has since died.
Garcia is on vacation this week but planned to spend today performing ceremonies for other couples.
“It was a huge honor for me to be able to participate in it, and so I’m very grateful that they asked me to,” Garcia said of Evans’ and Harris’ wedding. “I had to fight back tears, tears of joy.”
Also in line to get married were Mark Jiminez and Beau Chandler, who were arrested three years ago for refusing to leave the clerk’s office when they were denied a marriage license.
“We told them we were going to come back, and we kept coming back, and we told them one day they would give us a license, and today’s going to be the day,” Jiminez said. —John Wright
Update at 1:00: Same-sex couples hoping to marry in Houston will have to keep waiting. A woman in Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart’s marriage license office, who declined to identify herself, said that the county clerk’s office “is not issuing any marriage licenses today” because they are “waiting for the new application forms to come in.” She said she didn’t know when those forms would be available. —Anne Marie Kilday
Update at 12:53: Williamson County has ruined one straight Midland couple’s “special day.”
Lanie Moerbe and Tanner Spears woke up this morning and drove six hours from Midland to Williamson County. They’re getting married in 15 days in Georgetown.
But instead of getting the marriage license they came for, Spears ended up yelling at a clerk in the Williamson County Attorney’s Office.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Williamson County started this morning by refusing to issue any marriage licenses at all. A note at the Williamson County Justice Center blamed it on “software changes” made necessary by the Supreme Court decision.
“This is horrible,” Spears apparently yelled. “Travis County is issuing gay marriage licenses. Why can’t we get a heterosexual license here.”
“We were very excited,” Moerbe told the Statesman. “This was supposed to be our big day.”
Spears and Moerbe eventually decided to slip out of the Justice Center for lunch, but a county employee said that straight couples will be able to get licenses today after all. —Michael Schrantz
Update at 12:29: Brandon Mack, senior associate director of admissions at Rice University, was wearing a rainbow colored owl lapel pin at the party at the Katine and Nechman law firm.
Mack, who is African American, sponsors the Rice student group Queers and Allies, and is a 2006 Rice graduate.
“I feel amazing. I did not know if this day would ever come,” Mack said. “This is definitely a victory for the LGBT community, but it is also a springboard for change on all levels—full employment, housing, health care. People won’t lose the right to a full life, simply because of who we are.”
Mack said he is especially pleased for the young people that he works with at Rice. “For some of the young people I work with, their parents are going to become more accepting,” he said. “I know that I am going to see a lift in my students. I’m going to see a recognition that they can be free just being who they are, in a relationship, in marriage. That’s what this decision does. It is recognition of the humanity of who we are.”
In particular, Mack predicted the decision would prompt more LGBT tolerance within the African-American community. “This opens the door to inclusiveness. I cannot wait to see an African-American minister perform a gay wedding,” Mack said. —Anne Marie Kilday
Update at 12:23: Jack Evans and George Harris officially marry in Dallas.
Update at 12:06: At the Dallas County offices this morning, out lesbian Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said that many gay people have told her that her election in 2004 validated who they are.
“Now we’re saying to the country, the country validates who we are. Today we are recognized as equal in every possible way.”
Choking back tears, Valdez said she had no immediate plans to marry her partner of two years but wanted to come to the clerk’s office to celebrate.
“I think the Supreme Court coming out and saying you can now marry tells us what we’ve known all along.” —John Wright
Update at 11:51: Before the Supreme Court’s decision, leaders in the Houston LGBT community gathered early Friday for a “court-watch” party at the law offices of John Nechman and Mitchell Katine, the local attorney who defended plaintiffs in the landmark Lawrence v. Texas case.
Feasting nervously on donuts, coffee and orange juice, a small crowd gathered in the lobby of the firm to await the court’s ruling. In an adjoining office, Nechman kept checking his desktop computer, until he read news of the ruling and yelled to the others: “Victory! It’s a 5-4 decision.”
There were happy tears, hugs and kisses, and cheers, as Katine read parts of the decision aloud.
Katine was clearly gratified that Lawrence, the 2003 case overturning Texas’ anti-sodomy law, was repeatedly cited in the court’s decision Friday. Twelve years ago, Lawrence was also decided on June 26.
Wearing a brightly colored rainbow-striped tie, Katine declared, “We not only have marriage equality in America, but we have marriage equality in Texas. Adults who love someone else now have the right to marry.”
Katine said the 108-page decision guarantees “the full promise of liberty” to all Texas, including the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
Longtime gay activist Ray Hill was at the law firm awaiting the court decision. Hill said discrimination against gay people “has been a lifelong struggle for me,” since he came out in 1958 while a student at Galena Park High School.
Hill said the court’s ruling means new freedom for LGBT Texans.
“The highest court in the nation sees through all the meanness and prejudice and reached the right decision,” Hill said. “We are no longer whittling away at the injustice and prejudice gays have experienced. In this case, we have taken an axe to it.”
As the rowdy party in his law firm continued, John Nechman slipped away to his upstairs office to read the 108-page decision in quiet. Soon, he was weeping.
“It’s a very, very beautiful decision. It’s an eloquent decision that will stand the test of time,” Nechman said. “As I was reading it, I felt so uplifted.” But the immigration and civil rights attorney confessed to “mixed emotions” on a morning so soon after so many incidents of racist and hate-fueled violence. “Even with the sadness in Charleston, this can be a very positive day to move forward.”
Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay leader of a major American city, cheered the court’s decision.
“At last! What a joyous, historic day for America, the LGBT community, individual families, the institution of marriage and the fight for equality,” Parker said in a prepared statement. “I used to think that I would not see this day in my lifetime. In recent years, however, it’s been clear that personal hearts and minds, and the courts, were headed in this direction.”
Parker and her partner of more than two decades, local accountant Kathy Hubbard, were married in January 2014 in California.
“Marriage is about love, commitment, and family,” Parker said. “Couples who make that commitment deserve to be respected under law, with the full legal protections that accompany a marriage license. Finally, they are!”
Activists are planning a huge party at 5 p.m. this evening at Discovery Green in downtown Houston, and Houston’s annual Gay Pride Parade will be Saturday in downtown. Katine offered a prediction of that event: “It will be unlike any other parade you have ever seen.” —Anne Marie Kilday
Update at 11:50:
Update at 11:42: More Texas counties are issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Update at 11:29: Official statements about the Supreme Court’s ruling have been rolling out all morning.
The civil rights organization Human Rights Campaign called on Texas officials not to obstruct the court’s ruling:
In order to be in full compliance with the law, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that Judges or Justices of the Peace begin issuing marriage licenses to all eligible Texas couples immediately. […] Delaying the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples is not only unlawful, but allows the discriminatory impacts of an unconstitutional law to continue.
Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller praised the ruling:
Today’s historic court decision for the freedom to marry joins other landmark rulings that have moved this country closer to the Constitution’s promise of equality under the law for all Americans. This is a truly life-affirming moment for so many gay and lesbian couples who want to make the same lifetime commitment to the person they love and protect their families the same way everyone else does.
Lamda Legal Executive Director Kevis Cathcart noted the decision is a historic one:
For the first time, LGBT people in America will live in a nation that respects their love and their families. June 26 is a day that will stand out forever as a day of victory in the history of the LGBT rights movement in America. On this very day in 2003, Lambda Legal won Lawrence v. Texas, a groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling striking down state laws that made lesbian and gay people criminals for having private intimate relationships. And two years ago on this day, the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling in U.S. v. Windsor. Today, the Constitution and our democracy shine brightly again.
Chuck Smith of Equality Texas called the ruling a victory for tens of thousands of Texans:
The 37 states that already have marriage have proven that when gay people share in the freedom to marry, families are helped and no one is hurt. Today’s victory will bring joy to tens of thousands of Texans and their families who have the same dreams for marriage as any others. We hope state officials move swiftly to implement the Constitution’s command in the remaining 13 states with marriage discrimination. Same-sex couples and their families have waited long enough. While the work toward equality for all Texans is far from over, the campaign for the freedom to marry has been transformative in helping Texans understand who gay people are.
On the other hand, Republican state officials and lawmakers were … not pleased.
Gov. Greg Abbott accused justices of imposing their personal views on the country. He vowed to protect religious liberties:
As I have done in the past, I will continue to defend the religious liberties of all Texans—including those whose conscience dictates that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman. Later today, I will be issuing a directive to state agencies instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans’ religious liberties.
Attorney General Ken Paxton compared the ruling to Roe v. Wade:
What is most disturbing is the extent to which this opinion is yet another assault on the actual text of the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law itself. Just as Roe v. Wade ripped from the hands of the American people the issue of life and placed it in the judge-made ‘penumbras’ of the Constitution, so has this opinion made clear that our governing document – the protector of our liberties through representative government – can be molded to mean anything by unelected judges.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry endorsed a states’ rights approach—one he first supported, then backed away from, and now supports again:
I am disappointed the Supreme Court today chose to change the centuries old definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I’m a firm believer in traditional marriage, and I also believe the 10th Amendment leaves it to each state to decide this issue. I fundamentally disagree with the court rewriting the law and assaulting the 10th Amendment. Our founding fathers did not intend for the judicial branch to legislate from the bench, and as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.
Congressman Randy Weber (R-Friendswood) said he’s not done introducing legislation to restrict marriage:
There they go again. The Supreme Court has adopted the role of judicial activists. Nowhere in our Constitution does it say how marriage must be defined. In just two days, the Supreme Court has twice redefined laws passed by the people’s representatives and trampled on states’ sovereign decisions to define marriage. As the author of the State Marriage Defense Act (H.R. 824), this decision is a direct attack on the ability of Texans to determine their own marriage laws. I will continue to defend the sanctity of marriage, and ensure that faith-based entities are not penalized or coerced by the federal government due to their support of traditional marriage. The Supreme Court should stick to their job of interpreting the law based upon the Constitution, rather than interpreting intent. This decision shows contempt for Congress and state sovereignty.
Update at 11:15: In Dallas County, officials have not yet begun issuing licenses to same-sex couples, but have moved the crowd of about 100 into a nearby courtroom to wait.
The crowd includes Tammy Casarez and Nancy Baker, of Euless, who have been together for two years and showed up at the clerk’s office with Casarez’s two sons, ages 12 and 10.
“It’s an amazing feeling. … It gives me a lot of peace of mind. She legally now can be so much more involved in their lives,” Casarez said, referring to her partner and soon-to-be wife. “When it comes to the kids, every little thing is an obstacle. School enrollment, medical decisions … she’ll legally be able to do those things, and that is a big weight off my shoulders.” —John Wright
Update at 11:08: After a delay to consult with the county attorney, Travis County Chief Deputy Clerk Ronald Morgan held a press conference in Austin announcing his office would begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples.
“The Supreme Court ruling compels this office to issue marriage licenses to any couple otherwise legally able to obtain them, without regard to the gender of the parties and the couple. Put another way, after discussions with the county attorney’s office, we believe that the Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell allows us to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Therefore, effective at 10:30 this morning, we will happily comply.”
Anticipating busy days ahead, Morgan said his office would remain open late today before closing for the weekend, and would open remain open on the July 4 holiday next Friday.
“This is an historic day. We understand that there are people who have been waiting for this day for the better part of their lives. As long as someone is in our office and in line by 6:30 this evening, we will be more than happy to serve them,” Morgan said. —Lyanne Guarecuco
Update at 10:58: State Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) spoke to the Observer on her way to the Travis County clerk’s office.
“It’s a culmination of a lot of work, on behalf of a lot of people, to make the case for the fact that this is a civil rights issue that needed to be addressed,” she said. “It’s a happy day for not just LGBT people but everyone who has fought and understands that love is love.”
During the last legislative session, Israel fought to have her longtime partner, Celinda Garza, included in the Texas State Directory’s list of lawmakers’ spouses, and often argued against “religious liberty” bills that could protect anti-LGBT discrimination.
“For those who want to couch it in terms of freedom of religion, I don’t take away their freedom of religion one bit, I just ask that they respect my family and allow me to take care of my family the way they can take care of their family,” Israel said. “I’m proud of everybody for standing up for our family, proud of our President, proud of the Supreme Court, it’s just a great day in America.” —Alexa Garcia-Ditta
Update at 10:41: “It’s wonderful. It’s really the highlight of our lives. It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to us,” said Harris, who is 82. He and Evans, 85, have been together for 54 years. “It’s been a long time coming. We didn’t know whether we’d live long enough but here we are.”—John Wright
Update at 10:34: Travis County officials announced they’d begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples by 10:30 a.m. today.
Among the first couples in line in Dallas County were Kristy Johnson and Ingrid Snelling of Plano, who’ve been together 22 years. They registered for a marriage license online last night, then got up at 4 a.m. this morning. They forgot their rings at home, so their first weddings bands will be pieces of leather they found in the car and tied together.
“We’re tying the knot so we’re just gonna use these,” Johnson said.
“I’m just so overwhelmed and grateful,” she added. “I never thought we would see this day.”
The couple plans to cross the street to be married by a judge immediately after obtaining their license. “We’re not going to let any grass grow under our feet.”
They said they traveled to Dallas because the knew they wouldn’t be able to get a license right away in Collin County.
“I didn’t think there would be an ice cube’s chance in hell,” she said.
As of 10 a.m., the Dallas clerk’s office had not begun issuing licenses, but there were dozens of couples in line.
Among those lined up: Jack Evans and George Harris, the iconic Dallas couple who were married by a Methodist minister last year, but haven’t been allowed to legally wed until today. —John Wright
Update at 9:55: Travis County officials announced they’d begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples by 10:30 a.m. today.
Update at 9:39: In Travis County, Chief Deputy Clerk Ron Morgan announced this morning that officials are relying on the county attorney’s office for guidance on how to proceed after this morning’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling. “So at this point, the county clerk’s office is not taking action,” Morgan said. “We’re prepared for this contingency, we are not sure how long that’s gonna take, but we hope to have it done as quickly, but most importantly as correctly as possible.”
Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Ken Paxton warned county officials not to take any action without hearing from his office first.
While the county deliberates, couples are lined up in Austin for the earliest opportunity to marry. The first in line at the county clerk’s office were Cindy Stocking and Guadalupe Garcia, followed by Carmelita Cabello and Jacque Roberts.
Roberts and Cabello have been waiting 31 years to be married and both sported pins with the LBGTQ signature rainbow colors and the phrase “31 years.”
Roberts said she read the ruling this morning while sitting with Cabello in the county clerk’s parking lot, and “I trembled from head to toe.”
“I was going, they did it! They did it!” Cabello said.
“I didn’t think it would happen in my lifetime,” Roberts chimed in. —Lyanne Guarecuco
Gay couples are expected to begin tying the knot in Texas today, after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic decision that state-level bans on same-sex marriage run afoul of the U.S. Constitution.
Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, justices overturned a decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in marriage cases from four states, saying the bans violate same-sex couples’ rights to equal protection and due process.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the 5-4 majority opinion and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, along with Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr., dissented.
“It is now clear that the challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and it must be further acknowledged that they abridge central precepts of equality,” Kennedy wrote. “Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial to same-sex couples of the right to marry works a grave and continuing harm. The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them. And the Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.”
County clerks in Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have said they plan to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples within a few hours of the decision. However, other clerks, including Republican Stan Stanart in Houston, have said they’ll wait for guidance from Attorney General Ken Paxton, a staunch opponent of same-sex marriage.
Bexar County Clerk Gerard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff, also a Republican, said recently that judges will be on hand to waive the normal 72-hour waiting period before couples can marry after they apply for licenses.
“Nobody can estimate what the pent-up demand is going to be,” Rickhoff told the Observer. “My message is always, if there’s reluctance or hesitation by the clerks, just get in your car and drive down to Bexar County. We’re going to embrace you, and we’re going to make sure that you’re served, and we’ll stay open after hours to accomplish that if that’s what’s required of us.”
Dallas County Clerk John Warren and Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, both Democrats, have also said they’ll keep their offices open late to accommodate same-sex couples if necessary. LGBT advocates were planning “Decision Day” rallies in at least 10 Texas cities to celebrate the ruling.
According to UCLA’s Williams Institute, there are 46,401 same-sex couples living in Texas, based on U.S. Census data. However, many have already married in the 37 states where same-sex marriage was legal prior to the high court’s ruling. The state will now have to recognize those marriages.
Texas lawmakers have banned same-sex marriage four times, beginning in 1974. In 2005, they passed a constitutional amendment that was ratified by 76 percent of voters, defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
In February 2014, a federal district judge in San Antonio struck down the state’s marriage bans as unconstitutional, but stayed his decision pending an appeal from the state. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments in the case in January, is now expected to issue a ruling that corresponds with the high court’s decision. LGBT groups have already filed one lawsuit seeking to force Texas officials to comply with the decision, by offering equal benefits to the same-sex partners of state employees. They’ve also warned that government officials who try to defy it can be sued personally and subject to punitive damages.
The Observer will update this space today with coverage from around the state.
Timeline: History of Same-Sex Marriage in Texas