Several of Texas’s largest counties defied a request by the state’s attorney general on Friday and began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling.
In a statement on Thursday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton requested that “all county clerks and justices of the peace wait for direction and clarity” from his office before issuing same-sex marriage licenses, so that his staff could evaluate the “meaning of the court’s opinion and the rights of Texas under the law.”
Paxton also stated, incorrectly, that the U.S. Constitution “clearly does not speak to any right to marriage other than one man and one woman.” Marriage is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution at all.
Shortly before noon, 82-year-old George Harris and 85-year-old Jack Evans, cofounders of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, became the first same-sex couple to be wed in Dallas County. They’ve been together for 55 years. State District Judge Dennise Garcia reportedly returned early from her vacation to officiate the ceremony.
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez appeared at the records building as a show of support. She told reporters her and her girlfriend cried when Supreme Court’s decision came down. “I’ve known all along I was a decent human being,” she later tweeted, “but today it was validated by the federal government.”
First same sex marriage license issued in Tarrant County. Tracey Knight and Shannon Knight with their daughter. pic.twitter.com/QUfWd2oq9R— Anna M. Tinsley (@annatinsley) June 26, 2015
Accompanied by their daughter, Fort Worth police Cpl. Tracey Knight and her wife Stacy were the first same-sex couple to be wed in Tarrant County. The couple was joined by Fort Worth resident Jane Kline, 58, who hoped to return later in the day with grandchildren and partner to get married. “In Texas, if you don’t do it right away, they’ll do something to stop it,” she told reporters.
Also ignoring Paxton’s request, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir began issuing marriage licenses on Friday to Austin residents. “This is a joyous day, I am delighted for all couples who wish to be legally married in Texas,” she said in a statement.
Bexar County plans to keep the doors open for couples to get married as long as necessary on Friday. “We’re going to embrace it and stay open late until everybody who desires processing is processed,” County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff told the Texas Tribune. “The message,” he said, “is that everybody is welcome to Bexar County.”
Things were different in the Republican-controlled Denton County, however. As of Friday afternoon, County Clerk Juli Luke had refused to give marriage licenses to at least three same-sex couples. “It appears this decision now places our great state in a position where state law contradicts federal law,” Luke said in a statement.
According to the Denton Record-Chronicle, local activists have planned a rally at 6pm CT in support of the couples.
As promised, Paxton issued a statement after 1 pm CT on Friday afternoon, but it had nothing to do with enabling county clerks to perform same-sex marriage. Instead, the attorney general reiterated over several paragraphs that the First Amendment protects the religious freedom of American citizens.
“All state agency heads should ensure that no one acting on behalf of their agency takes any adverse action against any person, as defined in Chapter 311 of the Texas Government Code, on account of the person’s act or refusal to act that is substantially motivated by sincere religious belief.”
According to Paxton, his “order” applied to agencies “granting or denying benefits, managing agency employees, entering or enforcing agency contracts, licensing and permitting decisions or enforcing state laws and regulations.”
Photo via Bill Taroli/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)