With the fight for marriage equality in Texas reaching a critical point, some county clerks in the state are ready to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, while others say they’ll refuse even if a stay of a pro-equality ruling is lifted.
The plaintiffs in the case that led to that ruling in February recently asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to lift his stay on the decision and let same-sex couples begin marrying immediately. That could create a window for marriage equality in the Lone Star State before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit hears the state’s appeal of Garcia’s decision in early January.
Whatever happens, county clerks around Texas are preparing either to go along with marriage equality or resist. In Bexar County, which includes the liberal-leaning city of San Antonio, County Clerk Gerhard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff said he’s willing to keep his office open 24 hours a day to accommodate couples seeking marriage licenses.
“There’s a pent-up demand to stop these civil rights violations that are pretty evident,” Rickhoff, a Republican who nonetheless supports marriage equality, told The Texas Observer this week. “I would imagine they’ll be driving into San Antonio in droves, and that’s what we’re prepared for. Nobody will be turned away. We’ll work until there’s nobody left.” He said he has also lined up judges who can waive the usual 72-hour waiting period between applying for a license and getting married, as well as officiants to perform the ceremonies.
In Travis County, a liberal enclave that is home to Austin, County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said her office will stay open additional hours to meet demand. “She’s also prepared to ‘flip the switch’ on changes to a database that would replace ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ with ‘Person 1’ and ‘Person 2,’” the Observer reports.
“I’m hoping for this day,” DeBeauvoir, a Democrat, told the publication. “I’m very much looking forward to marriage equality.”
However, in Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth, officials don’t plan to be issuing licenses anytime soon. Jeff Nicholson, chief deputy to County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia, said that because Judge Orlando Garcia’s decision came in a different federal district (there are four federal court districts in Texas), if he lifts the stay, it would not apply to Tarrant County.
Lambda Legal senior counsel Ken Upton noted that county clerks in some other states have taken that position. “I don’t think there is anything keeping them from issuing the licenses once the stay is lifted, but an argument could be made that they aren’t required to do so until it [the outcome of the case] becomes final,” Upton told the Observer.
Neighboring Dallas County, which encompasses the city of Dallas, is prepared to issue licenses if the stay is lifted, officials there told the publication.
Meanwhile, in Harris County, home to Houston, County Clerk Stan Stanart said he would look for guidance from Greg Abbott, the state’s attorney general and governor-elect, as to whether to grant the licenses. Abbott and his staff have been arguing in court to maintain the marriage ban. Stanart said that like Abbott, he opposes same-sex marriage, but he’s ready to follow the law if such unions become legal.