Austin lesbians wed before Texas officials put halt to same-sex marriages
One-time court order issued for cancer-stricken woman and her partner
As a newlywed lesbian couple in Texas celebrate defying a statewide ban on gay marriage, the state's Republican attorney general is preparing to tell a court Friday why it should rule their nuptials are invalid.
The marriage licence given to two Austin women — who succeeded by seizing on a ruling this week in an unrelated estate squabble — thrust Texas back into the national spotlight over gay marriage but didn't send same-sex couples rushing to courthouses.
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The Texas Supreme Court acted quickly after an appeal from Attorney General Ken Paxton to block other potential gay marriages, making the nuptials somewhat bittersweet for Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend.
"We just feel like we were in the right place at the right time, to maybe put a nice crack in that door that's going to open up for all Texans," Bryant said. Texas is one of 13 states where gay marriage remains outlawed.
Friends and Democratic lawmakers toasted Bryant and Goodfriend, who have been together 30 years and have two teenage daughters, at a downtown Austin bar Tuesday night after county officials obeyed a judicial order to wed the couple.
Goodfriend, 58, has ovarian cancer. A state district judge raised the "severity and uncertainty" of her condition in granting the women permission to marry, sending the couple scrambling through a Travis County clerk building in case state Republican leaders got wind and intervened.
Within hours, the Texas Supreme Court had blocked other gay couples from getting married under similar special exceptions — but didn't address the women's marriage, which Paxton said he considered void.
But that remains in dispute, and Paxton spokewswoman Cynthia Meyer said their office will file additional paperwork with the state Supreme Court on Friday to argue their case.
"Activist judges don't change Texas law and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state," Paxton said in a statement.
New Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also reaffirmed his support for Texas' constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that voters overwhelmingly approved in 2005.
The women were granted a one-time licence after an Austin probate judge this week ruled the state's gay marriage ban unconstitutional in an estate case that was unrelated to the couple. Sensing an opportunity, Goodfriend and Bryant pounced and had their lawyer petition the judge Thursday morning.
State District Judge David Wahlberg, an elected Democrat, sided with the couple and directed Travis County officials to stop relying on "the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage licence."
Bryant said that being legally married to Goodfriend would ensure inheritance and allow the couple to make medical decisions for each other should one of them become critically ill.
Courts in Indiana made a similar exception for a lesbian couple in April because one of the women was dying of cancer and wanted her partner's name on her death certificate. A federal appeals court overturned Indiana's ban in September.
A federal judge in San Antonio last year overturned Texas' same-sex marriage ban but put his ruling on hold while the state appeals to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"We are all waiting for a final decision on marriage equality," said Travis County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir, whose office issued the marriage licence. "However, this couple may not get the chance to hear the outcome of this issue because one person's health."
Goodfriend, policy director for state Rep. Celia Israel, said during a news conference that her last chemotherapy treatment was 4 ½ months ago. But, she added: "All of us wonder if the cancer grows back along with the hair growing back."
Bryant, an Austin lawyer who works on adoptions for same-sex couples, said she and her wife believe their marriage licence remains valid.
Mark Phariss, who along with his partner are leading the Texas gay marriage lawsuit in federal court, said he was "thrilled" by news of the nuptials even though it's unlikely to impact their bigger case. He said Bryant and Goodfriend's circumstance "is evidence of the harm the ban is having on the state."
Shortly after news of the marriage spread online, Travis County officials said two other same-sex couples inquired about marriage licences. By then, Paxton's office was already preparing its emergency filing with the state Supreme Court.
"The AG can do what he wants. This is a very good day in Texas for progressively-minded people, much less lesbian and gay people," said Steven Tomlinson, who celebrated with Goodfriend and Bryant at their party Tuesday night.