Harris County Clerk Begins Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Kyle Carter AdminMedia Mentions

story by Gabrielle Banks and Rebecca Elliott, Staff Writers
Houston Chronicle
click here for original article

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart began issuing same-sex marriage licenses at 3 p.m. Friday following a legal confrontation with the county attorney's office.

Two couples had gotten their licenses at the downtown Harris County Clerk's Office, while four others were having theirs processed. A judge is expected to perform a ceremony shortly at the Harris County Administration building.

At a press conference, Stanart had said he would begin to issue same sex marriage licenses at 3 p.m., even though existing state marriage paperwork labels marriage partners as man and woman.

"The attorney general had asked us to wait. And we've waited," Stanart said. I don't think we can wait any longer."

The decision came after discussions with County Attorney Vince Ryan over the legality of delaying licenses. Ryan had announced he would seek a court order compelling the county clerk to issue licenses to same-sex couples, hours after clerks in Dallas, Bexar and Travis counties started issuing the prized permits.

Stanart had said he would await guidance from the attorney general's office, which had asked county clerks across the state to hold off on issuing licenses until it could offer direction.

Ryan jumped into the fray around noon, sending a memo to Stanart that said, "Our opinion is that the law requires that you immediately begin to issue marriage licenses to all qualified applicants without regard to gender."

Stanart's office said it intended to issue the licenses, but said it was waiting for a form from the state attorney general with slots that did not indicate gender.

"We were told if we use the wrong form it will be null and void," said George Hammerlein, a deputy clerk.

Stanart, however, said he will begin issuing the licenses at 3 p.m. if he doesn't get the new form. If the AG's office supplies the modified form before then, he would issue licenses immediately.

"I am sorry that anyone had to wait," Stanart said.

Several Harris County judges showed up at the clerk's office, offering to waive the 72-hour waiting period to perform a wedding ceremony and say they are willing to marry same-sex couples today.

"This is what I think is the right thing to do," said Judge Kyle Carter, with the 125th district. " I'm willing to stay as late as it takes."

By 3 p.m., 23 couples were in line outside the clerk's office.

Steve Lloyd, 42, arrived at 12:30 p.m. with his partner Kevin Hayes, 47. The couple, both Texas natives, have been together for 15 years.

They went inside to ask for a license with a crowd of videographers trailing them. Key said they could leave their phone number and she would call when she got the form.

Lloyd said, "We are waiting to get married in the county where I was born and have lived most of my life."

Maria Hernandez, 35, came with her partner Minerva ("hopefully soon it will be Hernandez") Herrera, 42.

Hernandez said, "This should be a joyous day for us. Unfortunately due to the lack of action taken by our Republican district clerk that can't happen." She said she would wait "until they throw us out."

Officials in Dallas, Travis and Bexar counties moved more quickly than their counterparts in Houston. Travis County had issued 54 licenses by noon, while Dallas County had issued 68 by midafternoon.

"The Supreme Court is going to have their opinion written in English, and I comprehend English quite well," said Bexar County Clerk Gerald Rickhoff.

At least eight couples were waiting as the clerk's office consulted with the District Attorney prior to issuing the licenses before noon Friday. Applause could be heard in the courthouse as the announcement was made.

Jon Truho, 40, and Larry Stern, 52, were the first couple in line to receive a license.

Wearing matching red shirts in support of marriage equality, they sat in a row of chairs waiting for word from the clerk's office. They've been a couple for 17 years and last year married in San Francisco.

"I'm relieved that it's over," Truho said. "It's nice to have the support of your government and community behind you."

Travis County clerk Dana DeBeauvoir began issuing same-sex marriage licenses at 10:30 a.m. Friday and said her office will stay open until 6:30 p.m. Extended office hours will continue next week and through the Fourth of July weekend.

"This is a joyous day. I am delighted for all couples who wish to be legally married in Texas," DeBeauvoir said.

At the North Austin center where licenses are issued, same-sex couples were queued up waiting to be first in line within an hour of the high court's decision.

"This is an historic day for us," said David Marsettler, 41, of Austin. "We want to help make history. We heard the news and immediately came over to get our license."