Dana DeBeauvoir

Suzanne Bryant (left) and Sarah Goodfriend hold up their marriage license after a press conference on Thursday afternoon. They became the first same-sex couple to marry in Texas on Thursday morning.
Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (5:14 p.m.): According to Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, the marriage of Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend is valid despite the Texas Supreme Court issuing a stay order for the trial court ruling.

 

"The Texas Supreme Court order on the Motion for Temporary Relief has stayed further proceedings in the trial court, and is not directed at the County Clerk," DeBeauvoir said. "I have every reason to believe that the actions I took this morning were legally correct based on the trial court's order and that the license my office issued was then and now valid. There is no further action for me to take at this time."

 

Updated (4:10 p.m.): The Texas Supreme Court granted Paxton’s request for a stay in the trial court rulings regarding the constitutionality of same-sex marriage.

“The Texas Supreme Court has granted a stay of two trial court rulings that Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages violates constitutional protections to equal protection and due process of law,” Osler McCarthy, staff attorney and public information contact for Texas Supreme Court, said in a statement. “Motions to stay orders by two Travis County judges, one in a probate case and the other a temporary-restraining order granting a same-sex couple a marriage license, were sought by the Texas Attorney General’s Office.”

Since Goodfriend was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last May, the Travis County Court decided her condition warranted the licensing. Of the two daughters, Goodfriend adopted one, and Bryant adopted the other. If Goodfriend were to die without being legally married to Bryant, Bryant's adopted daughter would not receive certain provisions. For this reason, the court decided to bypass the 72-hour stay on the Tuesday decision and issue the license immediately.

Bryant and Goodfriend attended a press conference to discuss their marriage Thursday.

“This is bittersweet for us because there are many other Texans who would like to be able to have their loving, committed relationship recognized,” Goodfriend said.

When Bryant and Goodfriend asked whether they thought the attorney general would step in and nullify their marriage, Bryant said they are not concerned.

“We can’t control what the AG office wants to do,” Bryant said. “If they want to come in and try and undo this, they will. But we have a valid marriage license, and I don’t think they can.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas congratulated Bryant and Goodfriend following the announcement that the couple were the first same-sex couple to marry legally in Texas.

“Now, it’s time for other loving couples across our state to have the same chance to celebrate,” Anna Núñez, communications coordinator for ACLU of Texas, said in an email. “We call upon Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton to stop wasting taxpayer money to defend Texas’ unconstitutional marriage ban. Let the people marry!”

Updated (2:30 p.m.): Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has requested that the state's Supreme Court block a ruling that allowed an Austin same-sex couple to marry.

Paxton said in a statement Thursday the ruling was not in line with the Texas Constitution.

"The law of Texas has not changed and will not change due to the whims of any individual judge or county clerk operating on their own capacity anywhere in Texas," Paxton said. "Activist judges don’t change Texas law, and we will continue to aggressively defend the laws of our state and will ensure that any licenses issued contrary to law are invalid."

Updated (10:12 a.m.): Two days after Travis County Judge Guy Herman ruled Tuesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, two Austin women, Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, were legally married outside the Travis County Clerk's Office early Thursday morning. The two women are the first same-sex couple to get married in the state of Texas. 

State district judge David Wahlberg ordered Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to grant the marriage license after a county judge ruled that the state ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional earlier this week.

Same-sex marriage licenses are still not widely available in Travis County. The clerk's office will only grant additional marriage licenses to same-sex couples if those licenses are court-ordered, office representatives said.

Rabbi Kerry Baker, an Austin-based rabbi who has known Goodfriend and Bryant for more than two decades, performed the marriage ceremony. Baker said he was aware of the historic nature of the marriage.

“Of course it’s an historic moment, and that’s always remarkable when you can be involved in history as it’s being made, but frankly, my relationship with Sarah and Suzanne is not about two people who are making history,” Baker said. “They’re my friends. They’re my fellow congregants. That’s what comes first, as a rabbi – not the history, but the impact on people’s lives.”

Baker, who provides spiritual counseling through his website “Everybody Needs a Rabbi,” said the couple contacted him Wednesday night about the possibility of getting married.

“For at least eight or so years, Sarah and Suzanne have actively been trying to get permission from the state to have an actual marriage ceremony and receive a license,” Baker said. “I got a call from them last night saying that today might be the day, so I was ready.”

Paxton said his office asked the state Supreme Court to stay Herman's ruling and ultimately overturn it.

“Texas law is clear on the definition of marriage, and I will fight to protect this sacred institution and uphold the will of Texans," Paxton said in a statement Wednesday. "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.”

Baker, who also served as Texas Hillel director from 1987 to 1997, said he wasn’t concerned about Paxton’s definition of marriage as a sacred institution.

“The attorney general, with all due respect, doesn’t know much about religion,” Baker said. “I don’t pay much attention to him on that score. And frankly, from an American point of view, I support the equal protection clause of the constitution."

Goodfriend and Bryant's two daughters, Ting, 13, and Dawn, 18, joined them at the ceremony. 

Original story: Travis County Judge Guy Herman ruled Tuesday that Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, but the county did not immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Herman issued his ruling as part of a case in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath pushed the Travis County Probate Court to recognize her eight-year partnership with Stella Powell as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer before her will was validated, leading to a legal dispute between Phrasavath and two of Powell’s siblings.

Although Travis County Court clerk Dana DeBeauvoir commended Herman for his decision, she has no immediate plans to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to a statement the County Clerk’s office released Wednesday.

“In his order, Judge Herman did not instruct the County Clerk to begin to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples,” the statement said. “The Travis County Attorney’s office is examining the order as well as the status of the current federal litigation related to marriage equality at the Fifth Circuit and in the Supreme Court.”

The ruling came Wednesday, after an hour-long hearing in the Travis County Courthouse in which Phrasavath argued against the prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Brian Thompson, Phrasavath’s attorney, said he interpreted the ruling to mean same-sex marriage is now legal in Travis County.

“I don’t see why the county clerk doesn’t rely on [the ruling] to start issuing marriage licenses,” Thompson said. “Every single day that goes by that we don’t have marriage equality in the state of Texas is an opportunity lost.”

Herman’s ruling allows DeBeauvoir to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to Thompson. 

LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas issued a statement Wednesday urging DeBeauvoir to begin issuing licenses immediately.

“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,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “The law in Travis County now allows for the freedom to marry. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history.”

This election season’s early voting turnout increased by only 39 votes on campus since the last gubernatorial and midterm election in 2010. 

This year marked the start of new changes in Austin: City elections were moved from May to November to coincide with state and federal elections, and the Austin City Council was restructured from six citywide members to 10 members, each representing geographic districts. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said she thought the new districts in Austin, as well as the county’s updated ballot, would increase voter turnout. 

“This ballot is kind of a record breaker,” DeBeauvoir said. “It’s the longest ballot we have ever had, and it is new in the sense that it’s the first time that the City of Austin has done single-member districts. It’s the first time that we’ve had all of our large local entities on the November ballot. This is all brand new for Travis County voters.”

Max Patterson, director of Hook the Vote, a Student Government agency focused on increasing student voter turnout, said he thought the publicity of this year’s race would increase the number of early voters at the University. At the Flawn Academic Center, 6,164 voters cast their ballot, compared to 6,125 in 2010. 

“You would think that they would be a little bit higher, and I think they will be on Election Day, as opposed to in 2010 just because it’s a little bit more popular race,” Patterson said. “More people know about it.”

According to DeBeauvoir, she expected voter turnout in Travis County to be higher with the new system. 

“That is a nice turnout, right in line with the usual gubernatorial turnout,” DeBeauvoir said. “We were hoping for a little better this time around.”

Compared to other Travis County poll locations, the FAC poll location ranked eighth in voter turnout. The lowest early poll numbers are at the Dell Valle Administration Building which totaled 395 voters, with the poll closed on the final voting day. The highest early turnout in the county was at Randall’s on Research Boulevard and Braker Lane with 13,706 voters. 

Despite the similar early voting rates, Patterson said he saw more participation by students in this gubernatorial race. 

“I think we saw, not necessarily in Hook the Vote but in other organizations that have gotten involved in the political process — there’s a number of political organizations on campus, but I think we’ve seen a lot more membership, a lot more action, in them,” Patterson said.

Neurobiology senior Morgan Merriman said she tries to keep her friends accountable and politically involved. Merriman said she thinks low student voter turnout is definitely a problem.

“Civic engagement in general is really important to being a citizen in America, and exercising our right to vote is the most important duty that we have,” Merriman said. “Students who don’t participate aren’t putting their say into their own future.”

Alex Keimig, human development and family sciences sophomore, said her friends all encourage each other to continue to be politically involved and vote.

“Most of my friends are civically/politically engaged, but more so my long distance friends than my local ones,” Keimig said in an email. “We’re all pretty personally motivated to stay engaged, so we support each other but don’t really need to push.”

Merriman said voting at the FAC was ideal location-wise.

“I early voted out of convenience since I am in another district and the place I would have to vote on Election Day is really far out,” Merriman said

Even with the convenience of on-campus voting, Merriman said she didn’t see many other voters at the polls.

“I don’t think the student voting turnout was high because there was literally no line at all ever,” Merriman said. “Students should start caring now about voting because it is our future, which is coming up really quickly, that we are voting for.”

DeBeauvoir said she is expecting about 150,000 people to vote in Travis County on Tuesday, consistent with Election Day turnout in previous years.

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

The Travis County clerk and tax assessor announced their plans Monday to educate the public about identification requirements imposed by the new voter identification law.

The law requires voters to present one of seven valid forms of government-issued identification, along with a voter registration card, at the polling location.

Beginning Thursday, city officials will travel to different locations around Austin to provide information about acceptable forms of government identification and issue alternate identification cards if necessary. 

Election Identification Certificates, which provide valid photo identification to be used only for voting purposes, are an option for students who do not have a driver’s license or other form of valid voter identification, such as a passport.

Officials at the Department of Public Safety will issue the certificates during the week and on Saturdays until Nov. 2.

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said the certificates are not an acceptable substitute for expired licenses. The certificates can only be granted to citizens who have not recently had any state-approved forms of identification.

“A driver’s license that’s still in [the state’s] database — just newly expired — would not qualify you to get an election identification card,” DeBeauvoir said. “You have to be truly out of the picture.”

Members of Hook the Vote, a student organization that attempts to increase student participation in elections, also plan to partner with the Travis County Tax Assessor’s office to educate students about the law and issue Election Identification Certificates.

“Despite not being a major election year, we see [the education initiative as] a great test run for dealing with voting issues that students might have,” said Julius Fountain, the assistant director of Hook the Vote. “We are very excited to work over the next few weeks to test the waters and help students learn about the changes that are coming with this year’s election.”

DeBeauvoir said if a student has a voter registration card with an Austin address but a driver’s license with a different address, that person will still be able to vote.

“It’s good if [the addresses] match … but if they don’t match, then we’re still looking at the totality, and we will go by the voter registration address,” DeBeauvoir said. “Their driver’s license is going to need to be a current driver’s license. The totality would be their photo, their date of birth and we would look to the voter registration card for the address.”

Tax assessor Bruce Elfant said the most important aspect of both voter registration cards and forms of identification is the person’s name.

“If the name is identical, you’re going to be good,” Elfant said. “If the name’s not identical and the address isn’t identical, then the election judge has to start making some decisions … My middle name’s not on one — it is on the other, and even so, I’ll have to check the box and sign an affidavit swearing that I’m the same person if I don’t update mine.”

Psychology freshman Laura Gomez said she feels students do not have the information they need to make sure they have the right voter identification. 

“Texas is 51st [of the 50 states and the District of Columbia] in voting participation — it’s really bad,” Gomez said. “I think the state of Texas needs to work on their education in general but also in educating kids on [voting] policies.”

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

Students who plan to vote in upcoming elections may find it more difficult than in previous years.

To cast a ballot, voters must present a valid form of photo ID along with their voter registration card, and the two documents must have matching names and addresses. This presents a problem for students who have received one form of ID in their hometown and another form after they moved to Austin.

“The ID law itself is the most restrictive in the United States,” Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said. “That’s not terrible on its face, but it is problematic to try to implement with no time, no plan and no money.”

The Texas Voter ID Law, passed in the 2011 legislative session and currently in effect, is being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice for violating the Voting Rights Act. DeBeauvoir said the Texas Legislature should have given Texas counties an implementation period to prepare voters for the law.

“We should have been given at least a year to implement,” DeBeauvoir said. “We should have been given funds and educational materials to distribute deep into the community, including for all these groups that have concerns, like students, people with disabilities, married women … all of those groups have potential issues.”

Seven forms of identification are considered valid forms of photo ID including drivers licenses and passports. Voters can submit provisional ballots if they don’t have valid forms of ID when they vote. This allows voters six days after the election to return to the registrar and prove their identity.

The City of Austin is working to develop a plan to educate people about the law, DeBeauvoir said.

“We are putting together a program right now that is inviting social service agencies and civic agencies, like League of Women Voters, to participate with us to try to do outreach in the community,” DeBeauvoir said. “We’re asking for ideas from those groups about how to reach their clientele.”

Bruce Elfant, Travis County tax collector and assessor, said he and other Austin officials are putting together a one-page fact sheet, in multiple languages, which will be available to the public on the tax collector’s website.

“[DeBeauvoir] and I feel very strongly that we have the responsibility to implement [the law] so everybody understands what it means,” Elfant said. “We certainly want everybody who’s eligible to vote and who wants to vote to be able to vote.”

DeBeauvoir said she appreciates that Austin City Council members are discussing committing up to $50,000 to educate Travis County voters about the law but also said she is concerned that it is not enough money. 

“[$50,000 is] not very much money to reach 600,000 registered voters,” DeBeauvoir said.

Twelve states have implemented similar voter ID laws, DeBeauvoir said.

Hook the Vote, a student organization that encourages students to vote, will begin educating students about the law.

“We understand that the Voter ID law will make voting more confusing and difficult for some students, so we’ve begun to reach out via social media and are planning on hosting deputization sessions so more students will be armed with the ability to register as voters,” said Julius Fountain, Hook the Vote assistant director.

Hook the Vote will work with various groups in Austin to hold on-campus information sessions about the law, Fountain said.

“We see it as imperative that all Longhorns have the ID they need to be engaged in the political process here in Texas,” Fountain said.

Republicans and Democrats are both certain that record-high early voting totals in Travis County indicate support for their respective party’s candidates, and both are fighting to get voters out to the polls today.

According to Travis County records, about 134,000 people voted early this year, up from 99,000 in the last midterm election in 2006. Usually, about 50 percent of the electorate votes early, so the county is expecting vote totals to reach at least 250,000, said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. Statewide, early voting totals are up 61 percent from 2006, according to records from the Secretary of State.

“We’ve got a hot ticket this year,” DeBeauvoir said. “There are races that are competitive starting right there at the top, and you can mark your way down the ballot with tight races.”

The Travis County Democratic and Republican parties will both have volunteers working at the county’s 211 voter precincts, as well as phone banking and reaching out to Election Day voters with signs and personal interactions. Polls show incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry ahead of Democrat Bill White by about 12 points, according to a statewide newspaper poll, but Democratic Party representatives said they are confident the results will favor them.

“Bill White is still within spitting distance, and if folks get out there and vote, Bill White can win. If you want a new governor, go vote for one,” said Katherine Haenschen, the coordinated campaign director for the Travis County Democratic Party.

However, Travis County Republican Party chairman Rosemary Edwards said that the high voter turnout indicates a state-wide frustration with federal politics.

“There has been so much pent-up anxiety about the overreach of the federal government,” Edwards said. “This is clearly a referendum on the Obama administration and his failed policies.”

To handle the higher-than-usual turnout expected at the polls tomorrow, DeBeauvoir said county precincts have ramped up tech support and will have 1,500 paid workers at the polls after meeting a projected 100-person worker shortfall this week.

“We gear up for election day.,” she said. “We’ll send extra troubleshooters to make sure judges have their supplies and everything is running smoothly.”