For a brief and exhilarating moment in time, the Lone Star State forgot its history of discrimination and bigotry, marrying the first same-sex couple in the history of Texas. But then, in order to maintain the traditionalism for which it is so well known, the state nullified the union, declaring it void under state law, and proceeded to block any further unions. One step forward, so many steps back. Despite a court order from Judge David Wahlberg, which instructed Travis County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir to "cease and desist relying on the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license specifically to Plaintiffs Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant" due to Goodfriend's ovarian cancer diagnosis, the conservative stronghold in Texas took the opportunity to tighten its grip and further display its intolerance.
Just hours after Goodfriend and Bryant were wed — crowning a 31-year relationship with an undoubtedly emotional ceremony — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton announced that the state's Supreme Court ruled in his favor, halting court rulings that deemed Texas' same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional. Somehow, it has become the primary responsibility of the state attorney general to end marriages that affect absolutely no one save the two parties involved. Because there are no larger issues to solve in Texas.
The entirety of the Texan Republican party were aghast at the notion of a legal same-sex marriage in the Lone Star State, with Paxton issuing a statement that read,
The Court’s action upholds our state constitution and stays these rulings by activist judges in Travis County. The same-sex marriage license issued by the Travis County Clerk is void, just as any license issued in violation of state law would be. I will continue to defend the will of the people of Texas, who have defined marriage as between one man and one woman, against any judicial activism or overreach.
Governor Greg Abbott reacted similarly, saying,
Texas Constitution defines marriage as consisting 'only of the union of one man and one woman' and was approved by more than three-quarters of Texas voters. I am committed to ensuring that the Texas Constitution is upheld and that the rule of law is maintained in the State of Texas.
His lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, expressed similar horror and outrage, noting, "I hope the Texas Supreme Court will respond in a timely fashion," and thereby entirely erasing any sign of social progress in the state.
It was indeed a fear of this reaction in a "timely fashion" that drove the couple to a speedy marriage. Judge Wahlberg waived the 3-day waiting period that is normally required before performing a wedding, and the happy duo wasted no time in proceeding with their vows. The American- Statesman described the ceremony as "rushed," as both Bryant and Goodfriend worried that the iron claw of Governor Abbott and company would attempt to stop the wedding.
This had, after all, happened before — eight years ago, the couple was denied a marriage license, joining the thousands of same-sex twosomes who have repeatedly tried and failed to celebrate their love in the same manner as their heterosexual counterparts. Their own marriage, Goodfriend told the Statesman, was made bittersweet by this statewide failure to grant equal rights to gays and lesbians throughout Texas, and while she relished her own newly married status, the ensuing backlash has only served as a harsh reminder of the pervasive inequity that remains many Texans' reality.
In spite of the Attorney General's best efforts, it seems unlikely that his declaration of the marriage's illegitimacy will hold much water from a legal standpoint. Bryant, who is an attorney herself, told reporters, "If they want to come in and try to undo this they will," she told reporters. "We have a valid marriage license and I don't think they can." Chuck Herring, the couple's lawyer, seemed incredulous that Paxton would even attempt to question the union's validity. Speaking with reporters, Herring said, "We think that’s legally invalid, and certainly cold-hearted, mean-spirited and unseemly to do that to an ovarian cancer victim and her family. We think he’s on the wrong side of history."
For Bryant and Goodfriend, however, their marriage is an important new chapter in the books. But their union, though a step in the right direction, is not enough in and of itself. Said Bryant,
We're here today — two moms, two daughters — but we're not different than the thousands and thousands of same sex couples who were recognized in the last census. There are thousands of gay Texans. Everybody knows one or two or three. Even if you don't know, you do know them. They may not feel safe to be out but you know them.
Goodfriend added, "There are many other Texans, thousands of Texans who would like to be able to have their loving committed relationship recognized." So even as we celebrate one small victory in marriage equality, it is even more important to remember those who have yet to attain the same rights, and continue fighting on their behalf.
Images: Getty Images (3)