Montgomery County Clerk Mark Turnbull said he turned one same-sex couple away on Friday who requested a marriage license, but wound up issuing the license after regular hours on Saturday.
He initially refused because he was waiting for clarification from the state on what form to use, but after the courthouse closed Friday evening, Texas Department of Health Services sent a revised form that removed all gender references and referred to those applying for the license only as “applicant one” and “applicant two,” Turnbull said.
With a new form in hand, he telephoned Pam Kunkle, 55, an insurance manager in Houston and her partner, Connie Moberley, 67, and asked them to return to the Montgomery County courthouse so he could issue the license Saturday.
“We needed some time to make adjustments with the language and make sure it worked on our computer program. We were glad they volunteered to come back and be our first guinea pig to make sure the system worked,” he said, adding none of the clerks in his office had raised any religious objections to issuing licenses to same-sex couples. “We are officers with ministerial duties. We have no discretion. We follow rules listed in our handbook.”
However, he recalled a former employee who objected to issuing liquor licenses on moral grounds and said she later switched to another county job where that did not pose a problem.
That’s Montgomery County, one of the reddest in Texas. The theme of “we do what the law says we are to do” is one you will see again.
Tracey Knight didn’t know if the day would ever come when she would be legally married in the state of Texas.
At long last it did come Friday, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling swept away the state’s longtime ban against same-sex marriage.
“We dreamed of this day,” said Knight, a corporal with the Fort Worth Police Department who serves as the LGBT community liaison. “We weren’t sure if it would ever happen. Now we have started planning our wedding.”
Knight and her wife, Shannon, who wed two years ago in California but wanted to exchange vows again in Texas, shared smiles and tears Friday as they were the first same-sex couple in Tarrant County to receive a marriage license.
Several other counties in North Texas were awaiting “guidance” from AG Ken Paxton. Denton County, which had originally refused to issue same sex marriage licenses, has now become compliant with the law of the land.
The Denton County clerk’s office is now issuing same-sex marriage licenses, following Friday operations that turned at least three couples away.
Whitney Hennen and Sara Bollinger was the first same-sex couple in the county this morning to be given a marriage license.
On Sunday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton declared religious objections a legitimate excuse for county clerks and their staffs as a means of denying licenses to same-sex couples.
Denton County Clerk Juli Luke said she is opposed to gay and lesbian couples getting married for religious reasons, but maintained her personal beliefs cannot prevent her from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
“Moreover, my faith in Christ ensures I have compassion and respect for those who feel differently,” she wrote in a statement.
See, Ken Paxton? It’s not hard to do at all. Collin County has joined in as well, though several other counties in the area are not there yet.
Williamson County has fallen in line, too.
Williamson County is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, as of 8 a.m. Monday. That comes after getting advice from County Attorney Dee Hobbs.
“I would like to acknowledge the gravity of the Supreme Court decision and the passion citizens have on both sides of this issue,” reads a statement by Hobbs, posted outside the Williamson County Clerk’s Office. “I would like to thank those that contacted this office for being respectful int heir questions and also understanding regarding time to review.”
That’s two outlaw counties that have come back to their senses. Smith County makes three, with Gregg thrown in as a bonus.
An East Texas same-sex couple became the first in Smith County to be issued a marriage license on Monday morning.
About 8:30 a.m., a couple showed up seeking a marriage license at the Smith County courthouse. Karen Wilkerson and her fiance Jolie Smith began the process to obtain their marriage license shortly after 8:30 a.m. and were issued the document about 9:20 a.m. The couple was the first to show up at the courthouse office.
The license was issued following a Friday Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Earlier in the day, the Smith County Vital Statistics Department was temporarily closed for a staff meeting. A sign posted in the courthouse said the department was also testing the system to accommodate new forms.
Smith County Clerk Karen Phillips said the state changed the vital statistic form needed to issue the licenses.
Midland County was a Friday adherent, but neighboring Ector was a holdout. Not any more.
Ector County Clerk Linda Haney will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, opting not to take an out offered by Attorney General Ken Paxton for clerks who wish to deny such licenses due to religious beliefs.
“I took an oath to uphold the law and I intend to follow the law,” Haney said, although the marriage licenses could not be issued early Monday morning because the new application was not yet available on the computer system.
Her decision comes after the Friday ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that marriage is a Constitutional right for same-sex couples.
Sunday, Paxton issued an opinion that clerks could deny licenses based on religious beliefs, just as justices of the peace could decline to perform the weddings based on religious beliefs.
Haney, however, said she will follow the Supreme Court’s ruling and what she believes is the correct thing according to the law.
“An act of civil disobedience on my part would not honor my God and I don’t want to put my county at liability either,” Haney said. “I do have strong religious convictions and anybody that knows me knows what those convictions are. But I did take an oath and I will follow the law.”
Amazing how clear and simple that is, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see all these counties, from different parts of the state, ignore Ken Paxton’s advice and do the job they’re supposed to do. And congratulations to Karen Wilkerson and Jolie Smith!
Not all counties needed prodding. Fort Bend County had it right from the beginning.
While the topic has produced a variety of opinions among the American public, the Fort Bend County Clerk’s office has issued a direct statement – current marriage forms won’t be modified, but when new forms arrive for same-sex marriage, they will be honored in accordance with the new law.
Same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, using the current forms, until the updated ones arrive.
Again – easy peasy. So simple even Ken Paxton should be able to understand it. Let’s let Brazoria County explain it to him anyway, just in case.
After an opinion from the District Attorney’s office this afternoon, County Clerk Joyce Hudman said Brazoria County is officially issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
Hudman said her offices have been issuing licenses since 1:30 p.m. and will throughout the day.
District Attorney Jeri Yenne gave the county clerk’s office a one-sentence opinion that issuing same-sex marriage licenses is mandatory based on the Supreme Court’s decision today.
“As a follow-up to your inquiry regarding marriage licenses, please be advised that on today’s date, the Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion indicating the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex,” Yenne’s memo reads.
After getting that memo, Hudman said her offices were instructed to grant the licenses.
One couple already has obtained a marriage license from the Pearland clerk’s office, she said.
A “one-sentence opinion” that explained the facts. Are we going to fast for you, Kenny?
Unfortunately, every state has its slow learners.
“I’m standing up for my religious liberty,” said Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, who said her office would not give out same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds. “I do believe that marriage is for one man and one woman because it did derive from the Bible.”
After the decision Friday, some county officials said they would wait to hear from state Attorney General Ken Paxton, who issued a written opinion Sunday saying clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriages can refuse to issue those licenses. But if they do so, he wrote, they might face fine or lawsuits.
Paxton said pro bono lawyers would be ready to defend those who refuse, noting “the reach of the Court’s opinion stops at the door of the First Amendment and our laws protecting religious liberty.” Lang said after reading Paxton’s opinion, she chose to face possible legal action.
“I could get fined and I could get sued,” she said, “but you could get sued for anything.”
You can also be held in contempt of court if it comes down to it. And remember, for this you could be sued personally, not just named as a defendant in an action against the county or your office. But hey, every cause needs a martyr, and I’m sure that future Fox News gig will be sweet.
That’s about all the counties I have the energy to look up today. Other resources: The DMN has an interactive map that’s at least somewhat inaccurate since they have no report on Fort Bend’s status. The Current has contacted a bunch of Hill Country counties and reports that all except possibly Kerr are now in compliance. Glen Maxey has been keeping tabs on Facebook – see here for his running count, and be sure to see the comments for updates. If you don’t see your favorite county listed somewhere, you may just have to call the Clerk’s office there yourself. Overall, though, the picture is pretty good and it appears to be improving. All the national headlines have been about Paxton and his get-out-of-following-the-law opinion for County Clerks, but at this point very few clerks, almost none in larger counties, have heeded him. Unlike Greg Abbott, they understand how the law works and they respect it. Paxton’s words – and Dan Patrick’s, and Greg Abbott’s, and Ted Cruz’s – will make Texas look bad to the rest of the country, but at least we still have enough sensible local officials to maybe mitigate that a bit.
In closing, here’s a non-legal opinion regarding a better way for county clerks with religious objections to handle this:
Religious freedom is so central to our nation that no public official should be required to do anything that violates the religious principles that direct his or her life.
And there is clear and proper recourse here for any public official who, as a result of this landmark change in the law, finds himself or herself uncomfortable with or unable to perform the revised duties of office.
They should quit.
Amen. Thankfully, very few of them have decided that they cannot do their jobs. Let’s hope the remainders follow their lead and not Paxton’s. Trail Blazers and BOR have more.