Hood County couple continuing lawsuit

Posted on 03 Jul 2015 at 7:15am

Jim Cato, pictured here with alpacas on his Hood County ranch, and his partner Joe Stapleton are suing the Hood County Clerk.

David Taffet  |  Senior Staff Writer

Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton will continue to pursue their lawsuit against the Hood County Clerk’s office, even though County Clerk Katie Lang reversed her earlier decision and was set to issue their marriage issue today (Monday, July 6).

The couple said Monday they intended to go to the clerk’s office with media representatives and their attorneys at 3:30 p.m. to pick up the license.

Cato and Stapleton are new residents of Hunt County. The couple, together 27 years, bought a ranch there last June. They were visiting on weekends until Cato, a retired healthcare executive who’s now on the faculty of Weatherford College, moved up to North Texas from Corpus Christi in October. Stapleton, a teacher, remained in South Texas until the end of the school year, then moved to Hood County in June.

Cato said the men called County Clerk Katie Lang’s office on Monday, June 29, and were told that the office would not be issuing any marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of the clerk’s religious beliefs. They then hired legal counsel out of Austin.

“She felt she was within the law not to make any accommodations,” Cato said of Lang.

After Lang’s refusal hit the news that night, Cato said he called again on Tuesday morning. By then the office was backing off, but he said no one he spoke to in the office would give their names to him.

And still Cato and Stapleton were denied a license. On Wednesday, they were told it would be three weeks before the office could issue licenses. When Cato asked why, he was told the office didn’t have the correct form.

So Cato downloaded the updated form from the state. But when he offered it, the county clerk’s office refused to accept the state form and said it had to be specific to Hood County.

“They were using every stall tactic available,” Cato said.

By Thursday, at least two other same-sex couples had been denied licenses by Lang’s office, and the city saw dueling protests, as advocates for both sides of the argument gathered in Granbury, the county seat.

The county clerk’s office had a sign on the door that they were not issuing licenses. Cato said when he and Stapleton went into the clerk’s office accompanied by representatives from Hood County News and KXAS Channel 5, the DFW NBC affiliate, Lang ordered everyone out. She reportedly told them, “No media allowed in the office.”

Cato said he told her he wasn’t with the media. But she still ordered him to leave, too, and called the sheriff, who arrived with about six deputies.

Even though the sheriff and his deputies knew better than to order taxpayers who were applying for a legal license out of the office whose job is to issue them, Cato said, it was still intimidating to see the officers there.

Cato said he and Stapleton would continue with the lawsuit, even though they have apparently gotten the Hood County Clerk’s office to issue licenses. He hopes to recoup attorney fees for the lawyers from Austin who worked all weekend on the case.

Once they get their license later today, Cato and Stapleton plan to hold a small wedding with a few family members present. But the difficulty in getting the license will stay with them awhile.

“We’re still reeling from all of this,” Cato said.

Comments (powered by FaceBook)