Stay on Travis County marriage may continue until Supreme Court ruling

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Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend show off their marriage license

A spokesperson for the Texas Supreme Court said its stay on a same-sex marriage ban will likely be in place until a United State Supreme Court ruling this summer.

“Somebody is going to rule on this, and it’s the U.S. Supreme Court, definitively, in three months,” Osler McCarthy, staff attorney for public information at the Texas Supreme Court told The Daily Texan, the student newspaper of the university of Texas at Austin. “So what the court has done is say, ‘Stop. Nobody move.’”

Last Wednesday, Feb. 18, a Travis County probate judge ruled the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Then last Thursday, Feb. 19, Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend received a one-time marriage license from Travis County Judge David Wahlberg, citing the probate judge’s decision.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, asked for an emergency stay, which was ultimately granted by the court. He also asked the court to overturn the couple’s marriage. But that doesn’t seem likely.

What remains to be seen is if the stay will be lifted pending a 5th Circuit decision on the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which could come any day now.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Bill reaffirms same-sex marriage ban, would only allow state to issue marriage licenses

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Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

A bill filed today by a freshman West Texas Republican legislator would only allow the Texas Secretary of State to issue marriage licenses to opposite sex couples.

SB 673, known as The Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act filed by Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, centralizes the process of obtaining marriage licenses to a single Texas entity, the Secretary of State, according to a statement released by the legislator’s office.

“This will ensure uniformity and prevent noncompliant individuals within a county from issuing marriage licenses that do not conform to state law,” he said, citing a Travis County judge’s decision yesterday, Thursday, Feb 19, allowing the county officials to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant.

In his statement Perry also cited the need to restrict marriages to a man and a woman per Texas law.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature banned recognition of same-sex marriage. Voters in 2005 voted to enshrine marriage discrimination in the state constitution.

“Almost a decade ago the definition of marriage was democratically defined by a super-majority of Texans,” said Sen. Perry. “Yesterday, Travis County officials acted in direct conflict with the Texas Constitution. SB 673 ensures rule of law is maintained and the Texas Constitution is protected.”

A companion bill, HB 1745, was filed in the House by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

—  James Russell

UPDATE: Texas Supreme Court stays Travis County marriage

Goodfriend and Bryant.2The Texas Supreme Court has issued a stay in the marriage between a Travis County couple following Attorney General Ken Paxton’s appeal.

The order can be found here. However, this order apparently does not void Sarah Goodfriend’s and Suzanne Bryant’s marriage.

Barbara Rosenberg, an attorney who works in the Dallas City Attorney’s Office, said her understanding is that the ruling can only stop future licenses from being issued.

“The [status of the ] marriage will be determined by the outcome of the cases,” she said. “It will be like California.”

By that, she is referring to the 18,000 marriage performed in California in 2008 before Prop 8 put issuing marriage licenses on hold. Those performed were recognized. In 2013, Prop 8 was overturned and marriage resumed in the state.

—  James Russell

Equality Texas celebrates couple’s wedding, urges 5th Circuit to lift stay

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Suzanne Bryant, left, and Sarah Goodfriend with their Texas marriage license

Equality Texas has issued a statement on the marriage this morning in Travis County of Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, congratulating the couple, but noting that the Travis County Clerk issued the license only under court order, and that other same-sex couples are not able to get licenses in Travis County — or elsewhere in Texas — without a similar court order.

Equality Texas also called on the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the stay put on U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia’s February 2014 ruling striking down Texas’ ban on marriage equality. If the Fifth Circuit lifts the stay, that would clear the way for same-sex couples across Texas to begin getting their marriage licenses and having weddings.

Equality Texas’ statement read: “While we join with Sarah, Suzanne, and their children in celebration of their wedding, we recognize that other couples are still denied the freedom to marry the person they love. We urge the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to quickly issue a ruling affirming the freedom to marry for all loving couples in Texas.”

—  Tammye Nash

UPDATE: More on same-sex couple married in Travis County

The two women who today became the first lesbian couple to receive a marriage license and be legally married in Texas exchanged their weddingGoodfriend and Bruant vows this morning in front of the same building where they were denied a marriage license eight years ago, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Sarah Goodfriend is a unpaid policy advisor to Austin state Rep. Celia Israel. She advises primarily on environmental and energy issues. Suzanne Bryant is an attorney in private practice in Austin. The two have been a couple for 31 years, and they exchanged their wedding vows in front of the Travis County Clerk’s office this morning with Rabbi Kerry Baker officiating.

To read read the couple’s petition to the court and the judge’s resulting order, go here.

—  Tammye Nash

TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Equality Texas calls on DeBeauvoir to start issuing marriage licenses

Dana DeBeauvoir

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir

A day after a Travis County probate judge issued a ruling striking down Texas’ ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, Equality Texas today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

But according to a spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, the county clerk will not issue those marriage licenses until she gets the go-ahead from the federal courts.

DeBeauvoir had previously said she was ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples as soon as the courts would allow. After Judge Guy Herman issued his ruling Tuesday, DeBeauvoir said she needed to meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do [in terms of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples]. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.”

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Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith

But Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said today that Herman’s ruling makes marriage equality the law in Travis County. “The law in Travis County now allows for marriage equality. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history,” Smith said.

The written statement issued by Equality Texas also noted: “Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.”

The spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, who identified herself as Angela Vallejo, said today that “nothing has changed” since the county clerk’s statement yesterday. “We have to wait for the federal courts” to settle the question, she said. “As soon as they approve it, I am sure we will begin issuing the licenses.”

Getting a license in Travis County

If — or rather, let’s say when — DeBeauvoir’s office begins issuing licenses to same-sex couples, here are a few rules you need to know:

• The Travis County Clerk’s Office is located at 5501 Airport Blvd. in Austin.

• The cost to get a marriage license is $81 if you pay cash, $84 if you pay with a credit card. Checks are not accepted.

• Both parties have to present a valid ID; both parties have to know their Social Security numbers, and both parties must be at least 18 years old. (Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian with them to give permission.)

• Marriage licenses expire 90 days after they are issued.

• Those obtaining marriage licenses have to wait 72 hours to get married, unless they have a waiver from the court.

The status of marriage equality in the courts

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer, and after her death, her siblings attempted to step in to claim her estate.

According to the Equality Texas statement issued today, Herman’s ruling finds “that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Contrary to [DeBeauvoir’s] position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County,” the statement declares.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it.” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Herman’s ruling yesterday came a year, to the month, after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in federal court that the Texas same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution. Garcia declined plaintiffs’ request late last year to lift the stay on that order and allow same-sex marriages to begin in Texas. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on that case and two others — one from Louisiana and one from Mississippi — on Jan. 9, and could rule in that case any day. Plaintiffs in the Texas case last week asked the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay allow gay and lesbian couples to begin marrying in Texas right away.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on four marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and to issue a ruling in June. The court is widely expected, as this time, to strike down all same-sex marriage bans in the U.S.

 

 

—  Tammye Nash

BREAKING NEWS: 2nd Texas judge strikes down marriage ban

Judge Herman

Judge Guy Herman

Less than a week after plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit challenging Texas’ ban on marriage equality asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift the stay on U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s February 2013 ruling striking down the marriage ban, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled today (Tuesday, Feb. 17) that the Texas ban is unconstitutional.

Travis County will not, however, begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, at least not immediately, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who has said previously that she is ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the courts will allow, said today she will meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.” DeBeauvoir told the Austin newspaper.

The lawyer for Powell’s siblings, who opposed Phrasavath’s claim, said they have made no decision on whether to appeal Herman’s ruling.

Herman ruled after an hour-long hearing in which Phrasavath challenged the constitutionality of Texas ban on marriage equality as a first step toward establishing her relationship as a common-law marriage. Phrasavath and Powell had lived together since Phrasavath proposed in 2007. The two were joined in 2008 in a ceremony performed by a Zen priest in Driftwood southwest of Austin. The ceremony was, of course, not legally recognized.

Powell died without a valid will in June, eight months after she was diagnosed with colon cancer.

In the federal case, the state of Texas appealed Orlando’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court, which heard oral arguments in the case — and one case from Mississippi and one from Louisiana — on Jan. 9 in New Orleans, but has yet to rule in the case. Last week, the plaintiffs in the marriage case — Plano couple Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes and Austin couple Cleo DeLeon and Nicole Dimmetman — asked the Fifth Circuit Court to lift the stay, after marriage began in Alabama when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to extend the stay on lower court rulings overturning the marriage equality ban there.

The Supreme Court also refused to extend the stay on a lower court ruling in Florida in late December, allowing same-sex couples to begin legally marrying there on Jan. 5.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear appeals in four cases from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, the only federal appellate court to rule against marriage equality since the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling in United States v Windsor, which overturned portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. The Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on those cases sometime in April, and will likely issue a ruling in June. That ruling is widely expected to favor marriage equality.

—  Tammye Nash

Gay Travis County sheriff candidate talks about changing county’s immigration stance, diversity

John Sisson

John Sisson, a gay Democratic candidate for Travis County sheriff, is up against incumbent Sheriff Greg Hamilton in the May 29 primary. Hamilton is running for his third term.

Former Sheriff Raymond Frank is the only candidate running on the Republican ticket. He was sheriff from 1973 to 1980.

Despite going up against an incumbent, Sisson said that he is faring well and received the endorsement of Stonewall Democrats of Austin.

After two marriages, Sisson came out as gay six years ago while working as a lieutenant for the Austin Police Department. Although he was talked about among his co-workers, Sisson said the talk eventually died down and he does not think his sexuality will be a target in the race.

“I am gay and I’m out. They’re fine with it,” he said. “Back in 1978 when I joined the police department, you just didn’t come out because you couldn’t get backup, they wouldn’t talk to you, they would treat you differently. And so I basically didn’t have enough guts to be who I really wanted to be.”

—  Dallasvoice

CHART: The 30 gayest cities in Texas (revised)

A while back we told you how the estimated number of same-sex couples in Texas had gone way down — not because they’re all getting divorced right under AG Greg Abbott’s nose, but due to issues with 2010 Census forms.

When the Census Bureau released its revised (or “preferred”) estimates from the biennial survey last month, the number of same-sex couples in Texas dropped by about 21,000 statewide, or more than 30 percent.

Until today, though, we didn’t fully know how the revised estimates would break down for cities and counties across the state. But thanks to UCLA’s Williams Institute, we now have those figures, too.

As you can see in the chart at right (click to enlarge), despite losing a total of more than 1,000 same-sex couples under the revised estimates, Dallas remains the city with the highest rate in Texas. And Travis County remains the county with the highest rate of hitched gays (Dallas County is No. 2).

You can check out the Williams’ Institutes full report on the revised statistics for Texas here, or view a press release after the jump.

So which city was the biggest loser for same-sex couples under the revised estimates? That would take some figuring, but it might just be Hutto, a small town east of Round Rock in Williamson County. Under the old estimates, Hutto was No. 7 in the state for most same-sex couples per 1,000 households. Under the new ones, it’s nowhere in the top 85. Oops.

—  John Wright

MAP: The fastest-growing gay counties in Texas

The Austin-American Statesman put together the below map for a story that ran this weekend about recently released 2010 Census data on same-sex couples. The story notes that Travis County’s percentage of same-sex couple households is the highest in the state and 13th highest in the country. Which, coincidentally, is precisely where Dallas stands among cities. Of course, these figures include only same-sex couples, and as Tisha so eloquently reminded us in the comments, “just imagine if they could count all the gay sluts in Dallas.”

—  John Wright