Thursday morning at about 9:15, Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant became the state’s first legally married same-sex couple.
You may have already heard about the marriage, but do you know what happened in the hour before that ceremony or the hours that followed?
Let’s spend a few minutes explaining what happened, and perhaps more importantly, what happens next.
On Tuesday, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman ruled the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional. Maybe because it was just a probate judge, or maybe because a same-sex marriage appeal was already pending in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but either way, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t react.
At least not until Wednesday afternoon. There was no rush to get a ruling to overturn the judge.
That opened the door to Thursday morning. Based on that probate ruling, a lawsuit was filed against Travis County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir. Here’s what state district judge David Wahlberg said in his order: Given Goodfriend’s health – she’s battling ovarian cancer – and that recent ruling from the probate judge, the Travis County Clerk was commanded forthwith to issue a marriage license.
The time from lawsuit to wedding ceremony was about an hour. Goodfriend says they had their rabbi perform the ceremony on the sidewalk in front of the clerk’s office.
The immediate question after they were married was, who else could get a license? The court order was specifically for Goodfriend and Bryant. But University of Texas lecturer Alex Albright says that doesn’t mean other same sex couples couldn’t apply for a license as well.
And maybe it was that possibility that lit a fire under Attorney General Paxton. He, along with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, issued press releases about the importance of continuing to defend the Texas constitution.
Paxton then asked the Texas Supreme Court to intervene; which, soon after, it did.
The Court issued two orders: One halting the probate judge’s ruling that the same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional, and the other stopping a district judge’s ruling that a “medically fragile” same-sex couple should be issued a marriage license.
His final action of the day was to send out a press release declaring the marriage license had been voided by that action.
But is it?
County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir says the license is certainly valid. And the newlywed’s attorney Chuck Herring says everything is legal, and it won’t be easy for Paxton to nullify the marriage, saying Paxton would be “on the wrong side of history.”
He added if Paxton did try to nullify the marriage, it would be “cold-hearted, mean-spirited and unseemly to do that to a cancer victim and her family."
Fighting words, for sure, but the fight probably won’t happen in Texas. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to finally rule on the constitutionality of same sex marriage bans this summer. Which means most courts will sit on their hands and let the big dogs figure this out.