Friday, February 20, 2015
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Defying Texas' longstanding ban on gay marriage, a lesbian couple wed in Austin after being granted a marriage license on Thursday under a special court order because one of the women has cancer.
Texas' attorney general immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court, which later agreed to block other gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses but didn't address the Austin marriage of Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend.
Attorney General Ken Paxton said he considers their marriage void, but a court hasn't ruled on that issue. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, whose office issued the license, said she still considers the marriage valid.
Cynthia Meyer, a spokeswoman for Paxton's office, said Thursday night that the state would file additional paperwork Friday "that explains why the order and resulting marriage license are void." But it was unclear if the attorney general or his staff had the standing to make such a declaration unilaterally.
The women were granted a one-time license in the liberal-leaning county after basing their request on a ruling issued earlier this week by a local probate judge who deemed the ban unconstitutional in an unrelated estate case.
Bryant said Thursday that being legally married to Goodfriend, who has ovarian cancer, would ensure inheritance and allow the couple to make medical decisions for each other should one of them become critically ill.
"Financially, now we're intertwined, and we will have community property that we will share," Bryant said shortly after the marriage ceremony outside the county clerk's office, where the couple was flanked by a rabbi, friends and their two teenage daughters, whom they both legally adopted years ago.
State District Judge David Wahlberg sided with the couple Thursday morning, directing DeBeauvoir to stop relying on "the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license."
Courts in Indiana made a similar exception for a lesbian couple in April because one of the women was dying of cancer and wanted her partner's name on her death certificate. A federal appeals court overturned Indiana's ban in September.
Paxton, a Republican who took office in January, argued that the Supreme Court's emergency stay was needed to "to make clear to all county clerks that Texas marriage law remains enforceable until there has been final appellate resolution." A federal judge last year overturned the ban, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the fiercely conservative state in 2005 — but the judge put the ruling on hold while the state appeals to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We are all waiting for a final decision on marriage equality," Debeauvoir said. "However, this couple may not get the chance to hear the outcome of this issue because one person's health."
Goodfriend, policy director for state Rep. Celia Israel, said during a news conference that her last chemotherapy treatment was 4 ½ months ago. But, she added: "All of us wonder if the cancer grows back along with the hair growing back."
Bryant, an Austin lawyer who works on adoptions for same-sex couples, said she and her wife couldn't control what the attorney general did but believed they had a valid marriage license. They hoped other couples would follow their lead, saying their advice would be: "Have hope and have faith."
Mark Phariss, who along with his partner are among those fighting the ban in federal court, said he was "thrilled" by news of the nuptials even though it's unlikely to impact the federal lawsuit. He said Bryant and Goodfriend's case "is evidence of the harm the ban is having on the state."
Before the state Supreme Court ruling, two same-sex couples had inquired about getting a marriage license in Travis County, chief deputy clerk Ronald Morgan Jr. said.
But after the ruling, some gay rights activists predicted that couples wouldn't flood courts with similar requests for exemptions. Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said "it would seem that the window for that has again temporarily closed."