Gay marriage now legal in Texas – sort of

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Gay marriage is coming to Texas in fits and starts. A probate judge in Austin tossed out the state's marriage ban on Tuesday and on Thursday, a second judge ordered the Travis County clerk to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple. 

The Austin women – Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant (photo) – were married on Thursday morning after nearly 31 years together. The couple said their vows outside the Travis County Clerk's Office where they were denied a license eight years ago, according to the Statesman.

The rushed ceremony was a mix of personal – with friends and their teenage daughters, Dawn and Ting, standing nearby – and public statement, with photos of their vows sure to include the county sign.

“It’s very exciting,” Bryant said before the wedding. “My little one was worried about missing her history class. I said we’ll be making history.”

The ceremony came after state District Judge David Wahlberg, petitioned by an attorney for the couple, ordered County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue the license. 

From Wahlberg's order:

The Court finds that unless the Court immediately issues a Temporary Restraining Order, the unconstitutional denial of a marriage license to Plaintiffs will cause immediate and irreparable damage to Plaintiffs, based solely on their status as a same-sex couple. … Based on the Plaintiff’s sworn pleading regarding the severity and uncertainty of Plaintiff Goodfriend’s health condition, the Court finds that Plaintiff Goodfriend’s health condition strongly militates in favor of issuing immediate relief, before a hearing can be held on Plaintiffs’ request for temporary injunction and before a final trial on the merits of permanent injunctive relief.

DeBeauvoir said she won't issue additional marriage license unless ordered to do so by a judge. A second gay couple – Shellie Shores and Rosemary Wages – were denied a license on Thursday, according to the Statesman.

On Tuesday, Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman struck down the state's marriage ban in the case of Estate of Stella Marie Powell. Attorney and Equality Texas board member Brian Thompson filed the challenge on behalf of Sonemaly Phrasavath. She was seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell deemed a common-law marriage after her partner, Stella Powell, died last summer so she could fulfill her will. 

Via the Statesman:

Herman’s ruling came after an hourlong hearing in the Travis County Courthouse. Phrasavath challenged the constitutionality of the prohibition on gay marriage as a first step toward establishing her relationship as a common-law marriage.

Phrasavath and Powell began living together in Austin shortly after Phrasavath proposed in 2007, leading to a marriage ceremony that, though not recognized under Texas law, was performed one year later by a Zen priest in Driftwood southwest of Austin.

Travis County courts became involved after Powell died without a valid will in June, eight months after she was diagnosed with colon cancer, leading to a legal fight over her estate between Phrasavath and two of Powell’s siblings.

On Wednesday, Equality Texas called on DeBeauvoir to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. 

“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. “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.”

But Attorney General Ken Paxton said not so fast. On Wednesday, he asked the Texas Supreme Court to put a stop to this gay marriage stuff. 

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton today announced his office has intervened in a Travis County probate case following a judge’s declaration that Texas’ marriage law is unconstitutional. The State has sought a stay by the Texas Supreme Court and has also asked the court to overturn the judge’s ruling. General Paxton issued the following statement:

“Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of a constitutional amendment defining the union as between one man and one woman. The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

Paxton has also thrown a fit about the federal case challenging the state's marriage ban. Arguments in that case were heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in early January. Though the judges hinted that they were poised to throw out the state's gay marriage ban, they may wait until the U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision on other gay marriage cases in June.

[photo via]

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