After a 31-year engagement and two kids, an Austin lesbian couple has become the first same-sex couple to receive a marriage license in Texas
Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant made national news last week when a judge ordered Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue them a marriage license.
“Young couples came up to us with tears in their eyes,” Goodfriend said.
But she and Bryant both insisted they aren’t the stars of this story: “Everyone wants a picture with the certificate,” Goodfriend said. “That’s the star.”
On Feb. 17, a Travis County probate judge declared the Texas same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional and recognized a marriage posthumously for the sake of settling an estate.
Goodfriend and Bryant’s attorney saw an opportunity. The couple — who had been together for 31 years and have been raising Dawn, 18, and Ting, 13 — since they were infants, had been trying to get married for eight years.
Eight years ago, they were part of a group that applied to the county clerk for a marriage license.
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia issued his February 2013 ruling, in DeLeon v Perry, striking down Texas’ anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, “we hoped he’d rule and not immediately stay,” Goodfriend said. But the judge immediately stayed his ruling, blocking any chance for same-sex couples to get a marriage license based on his decision.
(That case, in which plaintiffs are Cleo DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman of Austin and Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes of Plano, was heard by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in January. A ruling is pending.)
This latest probate court ruling, Goodfriend said, gave them another chance to get that elusive license, and Goodfriend and Bryant moved quickly to take advantage of the opportunity before the window closed again.
While the attorney filed a petition with state District Court Judge David Wahlberg asking for an emergency ruling ordering Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue a marriage license for health reasons, Goodfriend and Bryant went to the county clerk’s office to wait. Their petition also asked Judge Wahlberg to waive the normal 72-hour Texas waiting period.
“We kept the kids out of school,” Bryant said, and they called their rabbi.
Even after the court order, the couple wasn’t sure they’d get their license. DeBeauvoir could have asked the attorney general for an opinion or found other reasons to stall.
Instead, “She bravely said, ‘I have a court order,’ and issued the license,” Bryant said.
The Travis County Clerk doesn’t allow weddings to take place in the office, so the couple went outside where their rabbi performed the ceremony with their daughters in attendance. Then they quickly ran back inside and filed the license before Attorney General Ken Paxton could act.
Bryant and Goodfriend don’t see themselves as heroes and have been surprised at the amount of attention they’ve gotten. But they hope their experience will make it easier for others when marriage equality truly does arrive in Texas, possibly later this year.
“It’s an opportunity to put a face on this,” Goodfriend said of her marriage to Bryant. She added that she hopes seeing her family in the news will help make fellow
Texans more comfortable with marriage equality.
Does their marriage change anything for them after 31 years?
Goodfriend addressed her health and said she’s doing well now. But, she said, if anything happens, marriage and their relationship are one less thing
she and Bryant have to worry about.
Despite being together for so many years and raising children together, both said making it official mattered.
A number of years ago, Goodfriend said, “I gave Suzanne this coffee cup I like.” She said she was looking at it after their marriage and thought, “It’s community property. I can use it.”
“I thought about calling Sarah my wife,” Bryant said. “Hi, this is my wife. It carries import. Love. Commitment. It’s significant.”
Both said it was even more important to their daughters.
“Their parents have the same recognition of being next-of-kin as their friends’ parents,” Goodfriend said.
“Dawn meets someone and talks about ‘my parents’ cautiously,” Bryant said. “This brings our family into the light.”
Goodfriend noted that the day after their marriage, a state representative and a state senator filed bills she called “nasty” that would strip county clerks of the duty to issue marriage licenses. She called those lawmakers and their ilk “a particular segment that gets political mileage out of beating up on us.”
Bryant said, “Part of our hope is we give a non-threatening face to our family. If and when the Supreme Court or the 5th Circuit rule, this will have softened the reaction.”
And when marriage does begin statewide, Bryant predicted, many people will say, “I thought we started doing this back in February.”
So what’s coming up for this couple of Texas pioneers?
Bryant said Monday night was the first night they all had dinner together. Usually they eat together as a family and say the motzi, the Jewish blessing before a meal, five nights a week.
As for a honeymoon, Goodfriend is accompanying Ting’s class on their eighth grade trip and Bryant is taking Dawn and her boyfriend, who are seniors, to see universities. Both joked they were taking separate honeymoons.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 27, 2015.