By Eva Ruth Moravec and Paul J. Weber
AUSTIN — Defying Texas’ longstanding ban on gay marriage, a lesbian couple wed in Austin immediately after being granted a marriage license on Thursday under a one-time court order because one of the women has cancer.
Texas’ attorney general immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court, which later agreed to block other gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses, but didn’t address the Austin marriage of Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend.
Attorney General Ken Paxton said he considers their marriage void, but a court hasn’t ruled on that issue. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, whose office issued the license, said she still considers the marriage valid.
The women were granted a license in the liberal-leaning county after basing their request on a ruling issued earlier this week by a local judge who deemed the ban unconstitutional in an unrelated estate case.
Bryant said Thursday that being legally married to Goodfriend, who has ovarian cancer, would ensure inheritance and allow them to make medical decisions for each other should one of them become critically ill.
“Financially, now we’re intertwined, and we will have community property that we will share,” Bryant said shortly after the marriage ceremony outside the county clerk’s office, where the couple was flanked by a rabbi, friends and their two teenage daughters, whom they both legally adopted years ago.
State District Judge David Wahlberg sided with the couple Thursday, directing DeBeauvoir to stop relying on “the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license.”
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.
Paxton, a Republican who took office in January, said the emergency stay was needed to “to make clear to all county clerks that Texas marriage law remains enforceable until there has been final appellate resolution.” A federal judge last year overturned the ban, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the fiercely conservative state in 2005, but the judge put the 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,” Debeauvoir said. “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 four and a half months ago. She added: “All of us wonder if the cancer grows back along with the hair growing back.”
Before the state Supreme Court ruling, two same-sex couples had inquired about getting a marriage license in Travis County, chief deputy clerk Ronald Morgan Jr. said.
But after the ruling, some gay rights activists predicted that couples wouldn’t flood courts with similar requests for exemptions. Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said “it would seem that the window for that has again temporarily closed.”