Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant make history today as the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of Texas. Since the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional almost one year ago, the GOP has managed to quash every effort by local officials to begin issuing marriage licenses — until now.
Earlier this week Travis County probate judge Guy Herman issued a ruling that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional after it was challenged during an estate dispute. That prompted Attorney General Ken Paxton to ask the Texas Supreme Court to intervene on an emergency basis, “to make clear to all county clerks that Texas marriage law remains enforceable until there has been final resolution.”
Paxton and other state GOP leaders seem to be only prolonging the inevitable — Texas is one of only a handful of states whose laws on same-sex marriage remain in limbo. The U.S. Supreme Court plans to take up the state’s case by the end of April and a ruling is expected by Summer.
On Tuesday, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir applauded Judge Herman’s ruling calling it a “step in the right direction” but cautioned that, “the order does not tell me to start issuing marriage licenses, so I don’t see a way where I have any authority to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples today.”
That all changed this morning when District Judge David Wahlberg issued an order directing County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue a marriage license, which she did after careful consultation by County Attorney David Escamilla the legal grounds for DeBeauvoir to issue the first of its kind marriage license was set. The ceremony was conducted just outside Travis County’s main office on Airport Blvd. just after 9 a.m.
It was crucial that a plan be worked out in such a way that the marriage could be validated before anyone in opposition could react or be tipped off.
There is no legal way for the state to invalidate a marriage other than with the consent of individuals or by death, so this will further put the burden on the state to find a compelling interest for denying marriage, not to mention the horrible optics that come with trying to void a consensual marriage.
Many Texas GOP leaders still turn to the results of the Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage that was passed in 2005 to argue that the will of the people is being served, however it is never valid to leave individual rights to a popular vote. Travis County, not coincidentally, was the only 1 out of Texas’ 254 counties to vote against implementing the ban in the first place.
Now the tide is quickly changing around the country, and as goes the nation eventually does Texas as well. A new national poll shows that 60% of voters approve of same-sex marriages, while the most recent poll by Equality Texas from 2013 shows a slight plurality of Texans support marriage equality at 47.9%.
In many cases this is because more and more people now realize they know someone who is gay or lesbian. It could be a family member or an old friend but the personal touch is having a sea change effect on the nation’s (and Texas’) attitudes towards LGBT issues in general. When Texans find out about who Sarah and Suzanne are, it will be no different.
The couple has been engaged since 1985 and are raising two teenaged daughters. They are both active in the local community on social justice issues and Sarah amongst all other things is recovering from her battle with cancer. Coincidentally the probate case that prompted Judge Herman’s ruling on Tuesday was result of a death caused by cancer where the surviving party sought to have their common law marriage recognized. That humanizing aspect of death only brings more urgency to the issue.
I accompanied the couple along with a small group of supporters and their rabbi, Kerry Baker, to the Tax Assessor’s office where they waited anxiously for the proper cue to begin the ceremony which had been decided to be held in front of the Travis County seal with Texas flags in the backdrop.
It wasn’t the first time the couple had visited the county offices. Suzanne said that they tried 8 years prior and were “politely” denied. I asked why they hadn’t visited another state where marriage was already legal and Sarah said it was because she was born is Austin, lives in Austin and “will probably die here too.” She believes Texans understand the value of “personal freedom,” especially when it comes to marrying the person you love.
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