Texas issues first marriage license to a same-sex couple in the state, then denies another
(CNN) — Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, together for more than 30 years, made history Thursday by participating in Texas’ first same-sex marriage, despite a statewide ban.
Hours later, however, the Texas Supreme Court blocked other gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses after a legal challenge by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The state high court did not explicitly say it invalidated the marriage of the two women in Austin, but Paxton said in a statement that the court voided the marriage license.
“The same-sex marriage license … is void, just as any license issued in violation of state law would be,” the attorney general said.
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond Law School in Virginia, said via email that the Supreme Court stay did not mention the marriage license.
“He is asserting something that the order does not say on its face,” Tobias said of Paxton. “He may be correct, but you sure cannot tell what he says from the order’s wording.”
A county clerk in Austin issued the state’s first marriage license to the same-sex couple, acting on the order of a Travis County judge who said health issues prevented the couple from waiting for further court decisions.
Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir’s office said she issued Goodfriend and Bryant a marriage license at the order of District Judge David Wahlberg. Goodfriend said she had emergency surgery after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May.
Paxton responded by asking the Texas Supreme Court to block any rulings that “seek to undermine the constitutionality of Texas’ marriage law.”
‘The law of Texas has not changed’
“The Texas Constitution clearly defines marriage as between one man and one woman, as Texas voters approved by an overwhelming majority,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “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. 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.”
In a statement, Gov. Greg Abbott said the “Texas Constitution defines marriage as consisting ‘only of the union of one man and one woman’ and was approved by more than three-quarters of Texas voters. I am committed to ensuring that the Texas Constitution is upheld and that the rule of law is maintained in the State of Texas.”
Thursday’s order applied only to that one couple, and “any additional licenses issued to same-sex couples also must be court ordered,” DeBeauvoir’s office said in a statement.
“We’re here today — two moms, two daughters — but we’re not different than the thousands and thousands of same sex couples who were recognized in the last census,” Bryant said. “There are thousands of gay Texans. Everybody knows one or two or three. Even if you don’t know, you do know them. They may not feel safe to be out but you know them.”
‘A very important day for our family’
At a news conference, Goodfriend and Bryant held hands with their daughters, Dawn and Ting.
“Is this really happening?” Bryant asked a couple of times.
“It’s a very important day for our family,” she told reporters. “It’s a very important day for everyone who believes in justice and equality.”
“This really is very very meaningful to our family to have the kind of ability to make personal decisions, health decisions and financial decisions as a family,” Goodfriend said of the historic moment.
But Goodfriend said the moment was bittersweet.
“There are many other Texans, thousands of Texans who would like to be able to have their loving committed relationship recognized,” she said.
Tobias said the Supreme Court stay essentially means the issuance of other marriage licenses to gay couples is unlikely. And the county court judge’s ruling does not portend the end of the Texas ban.
“I think that the state court judge seems to be treating this case as a special one (because) of the health issues involved, so this appears to be a special exception,” he said. “But (it’s) unclear why the (attorney general) is so vigorously contesting what seems to be a narrow ruling, which may only apply to the couple before the court.”
Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by a federal judge in January 2014, though that judge allowed it to remain in effect pending appeals.
“We didn’t want to wait for the Supreme Court to make a decision — which in June they probably will allow Texans to marry,” Bryant said. “We have reasons to need to move a little bit faster. It seems that the judge understood that.”
‘We have a valid marriage license’
Bryant, an attorney, said she wasn’t too concerned about the state attorney general’s efforts.
“If they want to come in and try to undo this they will,” she told reporters. “We have a valid marriage license and I don’t think they can.”
DeBeauvoir’s statement said her office was ordered to immediately “cease and desist relying on the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license.” In the case of Goodfriend and Bryant, the statement cited “severe and immediate health concerns.”
“We are all waiting for a final decision on marriage equality,” DeBeauvoir said in the statement. “However, this couple may not get the chance to hear the outcome of this issue because (of) one person’s health. … 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.”
Paxton said his office filed a lawsuit seeking to enjoin the Travis County clerk from issuing any other same-sex marriage licenses.
Bryant told reporters, “We’re just very grateful that we’ve had this opportunity to crack the door open in Texas. We hope it will swing wide for everyone very soon.”
CNN’s Jason Hanna contributed to this report.