Two Waxahachie men drove to Dallas County to obtain a marriage license on Friday, because they could not get the license in Ellis County.
The U.S. Supreme Court Justices ruled 5-4 on Friday morning that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry under the 14th Amendment. The couple, Lendall Barker and Thomas Hutchins, were informed by an Ellis County Clerk’s Office representative that it was not granting any same-sex marriage licenses awaiting a directive from the state. They were the first couple to request a same-sex marriage license from the Ellis County Clerk’s Office.
“I felt her demeanor was very cold, especially when she found out I was calling about a same-sex marriage license,” Barker said of his phone call to the county clerk’s office. “The pause in her voice told me the story. She told me they didn’t know what they were going to do, and right now, there was no marriage license that was going to be issued.”
Ellis County Clerk Cindy Polley said everyone in her office was responding to requests for a same-sex marriage license with the following:
“The marriage application process under Texas law, as it stood prior to today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court, was designed explicitly for a marriage between a man and a woman. In that process, the Ellis County Clerk is merely a conduit of the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) Vital Statics Unit. This office has not yet received direction from the DSHS on how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling. As soon as this office receives direction, we will act accordingly.”
Barker and Hutchins said the response was not surprising and instead drove to the Dallas County Clerk’s Office on Friday, where they were granted a marriage license.
“I kind of figured Ellis County would drag their feet and kind of say we’re going to wait until the decision comes down, until we get some other directive; I kind of figured that nothing would happen,” Hutchins said. “It’s kind of par for the course. Am I upset? Yes, but it’s no surprise.”
The couple’s attorney, Daniel Freisner, with whom they consulted prior to seeking a marriage license through Ellis County, said he supports the Supreme Court’s decision because it comes down exercising their fundamental rights under the 14th Amendment.
“We’re a nation of laws. Sometimes we don’t like those laws, sometimes we do. Regardless, we need to respect those laws, and I understand this is a divisive issue. But it’s no different than in the 1960s when attempts were made to maintain segregation,” Freisner said. “The gist of it is, they’re having to exercise a right the United States Supreme Court has said they are entitled to, but they can’t do it at home. To put up bureaucratic rationale for the delay is unreasonable.”
The Ellis County Clerk’s Office receives its direction from the state and is provided marriage license forms from the DSHS Vital Statics Unit. Polley said the county clerk’s office hasn’t been flooded with requests.
“It’s not that we have been unaware as far as the clerks, or wondering how this was going to come down,” Polley said. “It is a very new opinion. I haven’t had any guidance as to the effective dates. There are too many unanswered questions to begin answering requests. We are an arm of the state, so we take our direction as to how to comply from them.”
Polley cited Section 2.004 of the Texas Family Code which addresses marriage relationship and contains a subchapter on application for marriage license. The first section of the chapter states, “A man and a woman desiring to enter into a ceremonial marriage must obtain a marriage license from the county clerk of any county of this state. A license may not be issued for the marriage of persons of the same sex.”
Gov. Greg Abbott issued a memo to all state agency heads on Friday directing them to respect and preserve Texans religious liberties and First Amendment rights.
“Texans of all faiths must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that their religious freedom is beyond the reach of government. Renewing and reinforcing that promise is all the more important in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges,” Governor Abbott wrote in the memo. “The government must never pressure a person to abandon or violate his or her sincerely held religious beliefs regarding a topic such as marriage. That sort of religious coercion will never be a ‘compelling governmental interest,’ and it will never be ‘the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.’”
Gov. Abbott went on to say that, “as government officials, we have a constitutional duty to preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan.”
In response to Abbott’s remarks, Barker said the governor is “a moron,” adding he’s worried that his marriage to Hutchins would be overturned by the state.
“I’m apprehensive,” Barker said prior to seeking a marriage license at the Dallas County Clerk’s Office. “Because I know if it is overturned, we could possibly stand the chance of having our marriage overturned. Which I think is wrong, but I hope the people of the state of Texas won’t allow this stupidity to overrule the Supreme Court.”
The governor concluded by writing that this order “applies to any agency decision, including but not limited to granting or denying benefits, managing agency employees, entering or enforcing agency contracts, licensing and permitting decisions, or enforcing state laws and regulations.”
Echoing Abbott’s comments and order to state agencies, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) issued the following statement:
“Two days in a row the Supreme Court has overstepped its authority. Today’s decision on same sex marriage is another consequence of liberal judicial activism. On moral grounds, the Supreme Court is wrong. I, like many Americans, believe in traditional marriage as defined by God. The Court has taken away Americans’ right to decide for themselves what defines marriage.
“I will continue to stand for the traditional Christian beliefs that are the bedrock of this country. The Supreme Court’s unacceptable announcement today will not alter our faith or moral compass.”
Freisner said those who stand in opposition of the Supreme Court’s decision are no different than those who stood in opposition of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment being applied to Brown v. Board of Education and racial segregation in the 1960s.
“I guarantee you this. If the Supreme Court had come out and said it’s fine to prohibit same-sex marriage, Gov. Abbott would be touting it and singing the blessings of the Supreme Court, and everyone else would fall in line with that decision,” Freisner said. “But because it’s a decision that they do not like, they’re going to attempt to put up obstacles and other roadblocks in an effort to prevent it. This is no different than the ‘60s.”
In speaking to Abbott, Texas government officials and all residents, Barker asked why he should not be granted the same rights under the law that other people enjoy.
“Wake up. This is 2015. What you like and what you do not like should make no difference as long as I abide by the state laws, federal laws and government laws that you abide by,” he said. “Why should I not be afforded the same thing?”
Because the state of Texas recognizes the legal divorce of a same-sex marriage, Barker said the state cannot refuse to recognize the validity of a same-sex marriage.
“You can’t have one without the other,” he said. “The state of Texas allows a same-sex divorce, so if you’re going to recognize a same-sex marriage to grant that divorce, then you have to also grant that the same-sex marriage was legal in this state.”
Barker and Hutchins have been together for 18 years and have joint ownership of everything as any married couple would, Barker said. The marriage license and certificate is only a piece of paper that reinforces their love for each other, he said.
“The love we have is there without the paper, and nobody is going to stop that,” he said.
“This is an historic day. One that’s been a long time coming,” Hutchins added. “Most of the other states have had this since, what 2011? Quite a number of years. It’s time for Texas to get it.”