First gay couple is legally married in Texas

8:29 p.m Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 Local

Two Austin women were married Thursday morning on a state judge’s orders, igniting celebrations from gay marriage supporters and condemnation from the state’s Republican leaders, including Attorney General Ken Paxton, who vowed to void the union.

Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, together almost 31 years, said their vows before Rabbi Kerry Baker while standing in front of the Travis County clerk’s office as Airport Boulevard traffic rumbled by.

They became the first legally married same-sex couple in Texas to cries of “Mazel tov!” A smiling Bryant then grabbed Goodfriend by the arm and said: “Let’s get back in (to register the marriage) before they make it illegal.”

Whether the couple remained married by day’s end became the subject of debate when the Texas Supreme Court stepped in at Paxton’s request, issuing an ambiguous afternoon order that blocked the ruling by state District Judge David Wahlberg, who had ordered that Goodfriend and Bryant be issued a marriage license, citing Goodfriend’s poor health.

Chuck Herring, attorney for the Austin couple, said the Supreme Court order had no impact on Thursday’s marriage.

“In our view, there’s no practical meaning,” he said. “We got our people married.”

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, a Democrat who supports same-sex marriage, insisted the Supreme Court order wasn’t directed at her office and that the license “my office issued was then and is now valid.”

Paxton, however, believed differently. “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,” he said in a statement.

At the very least, those involved said, the all-Republican Supreme Court’s order warned other state judges against trying to issue a ruling similar to Wahlberg’s.

Personally petitioned by Herring, Wahlberg had ordered DeBeauvoir to grant the couple a marriage license, saying the state law against same-sex marriage was causing them irreparable harm, particularly because Goodfriend had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

The judge also waived the 72-hour waiting period to perform a wedding.

Wahlberg’s order arrived at the county clerk’s office at 9:25 a.m. Bryant and Goodfriend immediately filled out the paperwork and quickly walked outside to take their vows, fearing the state would attempt to step in and enforce the law and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

The couple’s legal strategy was inspired, in part, by a ruling earlier this week by Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman, who found the state’s same-sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional in an unrelated case. The Texas Supreme Court on Thursday also blocked Herman’s ruling, but it hasn’t ruled on Paxton’s request to overturn it.

It was a far different outcome than eight years earlier, when Goodfriend and Bryant entered the same office but were denied a marriage license.

Thursday’s hurried ceremony was a mix of personal — with friends and their teenage daughters, Dawn and Ting Goodfriend, standing nearby — and public statement, with wedding photos sure to include the Travis County office sign in the background.

The newly married couple, and their daughters, met with reporters hours later at the law office of Jan Soifer, chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, which threw a party for the couple in the evening.

“It’s a very, very important day for our family. And it’s a very important day for everyone who believes in justice and equality,” Bryant said. “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.”

Goodfriend called the wedding a bittersweet moment because she said she was thinking about thousands of similar Texas families led by same-sex couples who cannot get married.

The couple said they felt pressed for time after Goodfriend, her hair still growing back, underwent emergency surgery and chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with cancer in May. Her most recent blood tests came back normal, but it’s been about 4½ months since her last chemotherapy treatment, “so I’m still kind of in that early period.”

“We didn’t want to wait for the (U.S.) Supreme Court to make a decision,” Bryant said.

The U.S. high court will hear four cases on gay marriage in April and issue a ruling this summer.

A year ago, a federal judge in San Antonio found the Texas gay marriage ban to be unconstitutional but halted the ruling from going into effect while the state appealed. The case is still pending at the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Condemnation of Wahlberg’s order, and the subsequent marriage, was swift from the state’s Republican leaders.

Gov. Greg Abbott said the Texas Constitution, in an amendment approved by 76 percent of voters in 2005, defines marriage as consisting “only of the union of one man and one woman.”

“I am committed to ensuring that the Texas Constitution is upheld and that the rule of law is maintained in the state of Texas,” Abbott said.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said he supported Paxton’s emergency appeals. “The rule of law must be upheld,” he said.

Paxton said his office will seek to void the marriage license “issued due to the erroneous judicial order” and promised a lawsuit seeking to halt the Travis County clerk from issuing any more marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Herring, the couple’s Austin lawyer, accused Paxton of being vindictive.

“We think that’s legally invalid, and certainly cold-hearted, mean-spirited and unseemly to do that to an ovarian cancer victim and her family. We think he’s on the wrong side of history,” Herring said.

DeBeauvoir emphasized that her office was acting under a judge’s direction and would issue no additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But as word of the marriage spread quickly through social media, Shellie Shores and Rosemary Wages arrived at the county offices Thursday morning hoping to get their own marriage license. They were denied.

“We were like, ‘this may be it,’” Shores said. “We’ve been together over 20 years, and this is the state where we grew up and live, and we want to be legally married here.”

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