A handful of overjoyed LGBT couples were among the first to marry in Harris County on Friday, just hours after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage across the country. But it didn't come without a fight.
Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart's office issued 47 marriage licenses in just a few hours on Friday, after initially refusing to grant licenses to LGBT couples. Before Friday's historic court decision, Stanart said he would defy the Supreme Court ruling. It took action from County Attorney Vince Ryan, and the threat of a court order, to move Stanart to start issuing licenses at 3 p.m. at the courthouse on Caroline.
John LaRue and Hunter Middleton waited much of the day, challenging Stanart's reluctance, and became the first gay couple in Harris County to receive a license. They plan to be married in the coming months. Maria and Minerva Hernandez (top photo) say they were the fist lesbian couple married in the county, one of about 10 same-sex marriage 125th District Court Judge Kyle Carter performed on Friday.
"I am more than happy to be part of the process whereby people obtain equal rights across this country," Carter said after waiving the 72-hour waiting period and marrying several LGBT couples.
"Every time that I get to be part of putting two people that love each other together and unite a new family, it gives me goose bumps. It's an amazing experience and one of my favorite parts of this job," Carter said.
Our cameras were also on hand when some couples followed up the courthouse with a visit to the LGBT congregation of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. A few ceremonies were performed there blessing the legal unions.
Ryan, who was born in Montrose and represented the gayborhood as a city council member, said he was prepared to nudge Stanart into following the Supreme Court ruling.
But Ryan's office was ready with an opinion from the county attorney to get things rolling as soon as the Supreme Court's decision was announced. He sent a letter to Stanart just after 9 a.m. once he'd read Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion on the case. Reading the decision over, it was impossible to misinterpret what the Supreme Court had intended, Ryan says. “The opinion by Justice Kennedy was so clear and direct it made our opinion, which was already done, easy to send out.”
Ryan's letter advised Stanart that “in light of the opinion issued today in the case of Obergfell vs. Hodges et al, our opinion is that the law requires you immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to all qualified applicants without regard to gender." Stanart could use the old forms until the right forms were issued by the state, Ryan told the clerk.
Ryan also stands ready to address other elected officials who want to follow the advice of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton and defy the Supreme Court ruing.
Now, Ryan is looking at other issues that may come out of the Supreme Court's ruling. One question is whether elected officials will be required to perform same-sex marriages. “I've already looked at this and in my opinion an elected official that chooses to perform marriages cannot refuse to perform same-sex marriages under the law. An elected official can refuse to perform any marriages, but we believe that if an elected official performs marriages they should perform marriage ceremonies for all,” Ryan says.
The 47 marriage licenses issued to LGBT couples in Harris County on Friday were among 630 dished out across the state, according to the Texas Tribune.
Resurrection MCC photos by Rob Martinez