County Judge

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.”

A county judge in Dallas, Texas, is making waves in the headlines for her policies regarding performing marriage ceremonies. Tonya Parker, thought to be the first openly gay African-American elected official in Texas, is refusing to perform marriage ceremonies for straight couples until gay couples are secured the same right.

Parker argues that she will not conduct these heterosexual-only marriage ceremonies because it is an “unequal application of the law. Period,” according to the Dallas Voice. She also believes doing so would be hypocritical to her own identity, as she would not be afforded the same marriage ceremony with the partner of her choice.

Parker goes on to note that when couples come to her to be married, she quickly helps them find another judge at the courthouse to perform the ceremony instead. Yet, before turning them away, she takes the opportunity to explain why she refuses to perform the ceremony, bringing the inequalities of the current Texas marriage law to light in a relatable way for heterosexual couples. She hopes to use her public position to raise awareness of LGBT rights and ensure LGBT persons in Texas feel equal in her courtroom.

Parker’s unprecedented actions are garnering attention of Sean Hannity and other conservative pundits. Parker’s politically charged stance comes at a time when issues of gay marriage and other similar topics are entering the forefront of the Republican primary debate. Texas in particular seems to have trouble swallowing the idea of LGBT rights. Our own governor warned of President Barack Obama’s supposed “war on religion” and, in a now-famous video, bemoaned that “gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas.”

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum seems to have waged his own metaphorical war on Americans with differing opinions than his own. Since his surge from behind in the primary race, his very conservative opinions have entered the mainstream, transforming the Republican primary race into one focused on social issues instead of the economy or foreign policy. Santorum, who promises to invalidate gay marriage and reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as president, believes same-sex relationships do not benefit society and thus these relationships should not be awarded the “privilege of marriage.”

While there are many reasons to fear the future for LGBT rights and the fight for equal marriage rights, there are also many reasons to rejoice the progress being made. Numerous states around the U.S. have recently legalized same-sex marriage, including Washington and, soon, Maryland. California recently overturned Proposition 8 when an appeals court found it unconstitutional.

Texas itself is making progress toward ensuring LGBT equality, including the activism of Judge Parker, and Houston’s election of the U.S.’s first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, in 2009. Furthermore, the UT campus has created a safe environment for all students with features such as the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Queer Student Alliance and the Gay Business Students Association.

Messages like Parker’s are vital to our society because they bring to light human rights violations in our country. Her stand against performing heterosexual marriages is not to demonstrate contempt toward a particular group, but rather to promote the equal rights for all groups. Parker is well aware that her position gives her a greater platform to spread her opinions. Her brave actions should be esteemed and simulated around the country by other people in positions of power in order to further the cause of marriage equality.

Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.

Recently disqualified SG candidates Madison Gardner, right, and Antonio Guevara, left, sit in the Travis County Courthouse shortly before a hearing Tuesday afternoon which issued Madison a temporary restraining order against the university - effectively postponing executive alliance elections for two weeks.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

A Travis County judge issued a termporary restraining order postponing the Student Government presidential and vice presidential elections for at least two weeks Tuesday.

Judge Tim Sulak will next review a suit filed by former presidential candidate Madison Gardner and running mate Antonio Guevara to decide whether they will be put back on the ballot. The Gardner campaign filed the suit against UT and SG on Monday claiming the Election Code the Election Supervisory Board and the SG Judicial Court used to disqualify them on Feb. 22 is a violation of their First Amendment rights to association under the U.S. Constitution.

The campus-wide elections for all other positions will still be held today and Thursday as planned, according to the official board opinion from chair Eric Nimmer.

The Board disqualified the campaign for associating with Student Events Center presidential candidate Carissa Kelley by including her in photos, videos, website banners and other campaign promotional materials. Under the Election Code, candidates are not allowed to associate with one another and any violation can result in immediate disqualification.

Sulak granted Gardner’s request for a temporary restraining order and said he granted it to give the parties who wish to be on the ballot, parties who are on the ballot and parties who wish to vote an opportunity to have the merits of the Election Code considered by the court. Gardner voted in favor of a version of the code that included the rule forbidding association between candidates for different races when he was a University-wide representative in 2010-2011. Gardner said when he voted for the code he was confused on the intent of the association provision and does not agree with the harshness of the penalty for violating that rule.

Austin lawyer Jason Snell is representing Gardner while Leo Barnes, associate vice president for legal affairs, is representing UT. Assistant Texas Attorney General Daniel Perkins is representing SG.

Patricia Ohlendorf, vice president for legal affairs, said Barnes expressed neutrality on behalf of the UT administration and requested guidance from the Court.

At the hearing, Snell said there will be no form of compensation for opportunities lost if Gardner and Guevara do not get a chance to run.

“Once Mr. Gardner graduates, there is no adequate remedy of law and there is no money to compensate them for lost opportunities to put [it] on their resume, transcript, applications,” Snell said. “All these good things that could result from being the president and vice president of one the greatest universities in the world.”

Gardner said he just wants the experience of serving the University for a year and representing students. Gardner said his campaign did not deserve a disqualification because Kelley is one of 40 people in the promotional materials and is not an SG candidate.

“We really believe in our cause,” Gardner said. “I really care about this and this University and the things I was looking forward to doing over the next year. I believe in it so much, I want to make sure I did everything I could have done to be on the ballot.”

On Sunday, Gardner said the majority of students are not represented by the presidential candidates John Lawler and Thor Lund, the only candidates remaining on the ballot after the disqualification of Yaman Desai and Ryan Shingledecker’s withdrawal.

Guevara is not named in the title of the suit, and he said Sunday he was uncomfortable with the idea of pursuing legal action.

SG President Natalie Butler said she found out about the lawsuit this afternoon and may be subpoenaed as an agent for SG. Butler said although Gardner serves as the external financial director for her executive board, this is not an act by her administration. This is the fourth consecutive year SG has faced problems in presidential and vice presidential elections.

“I don’t know if the Election Code is unconstitutional because it’s functioned before,” Butler said. “So I don’t know why it’s coming up now because it’s been in use for several years.”

Butler said this lawsuit is a poor reflection of SG that decreases voter turnout and gives students the impression SG is all about winning elections.

Candidate John Lawler testified at the hearing and said postponing the presidential and vice presidential election would hinder his campaign because he does not have the funds or resources to continue campaigning. Lawler said this lawsuit was putting students’ democracy at risk for the sake of two individuals.

“We feel if you grant this injunction you’re giving people who have the most money the [advantage],” Lawler said. “You’re favoring people who have the most time and resources that the typical student does not have.”

— Additional reporting by Audrey White and Thomas Allison

Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 as : SG presidental vote delayed