Travis County Celebrates Marriage Equality

Clerk issues 313 marriage licenses by close of business

Brittany Tovar (l) and Ana Isabel Lopez – along with dozens of other LGBT couples – celebrate marriage equality at the Travis County Clerk's office after a historic SCOTUS ruling. (Photo by Mary Tuma)

Staring in disbelief at their brand-new marriage license, Austin couple Marti Bier and Sanaz Faili have much to celebrate. After 14 years and two children, their love is now legally recognized by Texas – a state notoriously hostile to gay rights.

“We’ve fought for this for so long. It still feels surreal,” Bier told the Chronicle while awaiting her license at the Travis County Clerk’s office. “It’s nice to know that in the eyes of the state and by law we are what we’ve always known we are – a family and a committed, loving couple.”

In a historic victory for the LGBTQ community and its allies, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled marriage equality to be a constitutionally protected right Friday morning, requiring same-sex marriage to be recognized as legal in all 50 states. “Under the Constitution, same-sex couples seek in marriage the same legal treatment as opposite-sex couples, and it would disparage their choices and diminish their personhood to deny them this right,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with other conservative-leaning Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia, who, in a scathing separate dissenting opinion, called the ruling “pretentious” “egotistic”, a “threat to American democracy,” and an affront to the Constitution.

While the Travis County Clerk’s office initially paused to ensure the go-ahead from county attorneys, they promptly began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples at 10:30am after all legal questions were cleared. The office on Airport Boulevard transformed into a joyous, emotional, and monumental institution.

In a packed room, dozens of couples – many joined by equally ecstatic friends and family – were met with cheers and applause as they were called up to conduct the license paperwork. Brittany Tovar, standing alongside partner Ana Isabel Lopez said the SCOTUS ruling delivered a sense of validation. “It’s given us a certain amount of humanity,” said Tovar. “I feel like a real citizen today.”

Austin resident David Quinto-Pozos, there with partner Manuel (who legally changed his last name in 2001 after an unofficial wedding ceremony), said he never expected to witness a favorable marriage equality ruling in his lifetime. “There have been so many strides for LGBT rights in the past decade, so on some level I should have seen this coming, but it’s still hard to believe,” said David.

Echoing the amazement of his partner of 17 years, Manuel pointed to the many rights opposite sex couples have long enjoyed. “We are finally seen as equal in the eyes of the law and civil society. Now, we are not disadvantaged when it comes to visiting our partner in the hospital and making important medical and end of life decisions.” Manuel also adds that the momentum today should be carried on to continue lingering battles in the gay community. “I hope we can take this energy and apply it to areas where we still see injustice, like transgender rights, people of color, and LGBT homeless youth,” he said. “This fight for equality is not over."

Marti Bier (l) and partner Sanaz Faili survey their newly issued marriage license. (Photo by Mary Tuma)

Among the crowd was openly gay Texas state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, who stopped by the clerk’s office to show her support. “I’m really proud today,” Israel told the Chronicle. “We’ve worked so hard for so many years on LGBT issues; finally Texas is being dragged into the 21st century. It’s a good day to be Texan.” As his district is home to the clerk’s office, District 4 Council Member Greg Casar packed his staff in his car and headed to the office this morning to partake in the celebration. “It’s really special to share this historic moment in my district,” said Casar. “It’s usually hard to see progress but it’s times like these that show us we can be a better society.”

Carrying the legacy of his predecessor Gov. Greg Abbott, anti-LGBTQ crusader Attorney General Ken Paxton originally issued a statement calling on county clerks to hold off on granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples before he has the final say. But Paxton, now powerless by the law of the high court, issued a long, ineffectual, and discriminatory screed today. “[N]o court, no law, no rule, and no words will change the simple truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Nothing will change the importance of a mother and a father to the raising of a child,” he wrote, ordering counties to prioritize “religious liberty.”

In response to Paxton’s initial call to halt licenses, Ronald Morgan, chief deputy Travis County clerk, told the Chronicle, “While we appreciate the attorney general’s recommendation, we follow the legal advice of the county attorney, so his opinion is not binding in this office. We are obligated to follow the law and today the law is marriage equality and we are overjoyed to comply.” As for couples hoping to wed in surrounding counties (i.e., Williamson County) less enthusiastic than Travis, Morgan said those couples are “more than welcome” to make the trip to his office – just pack some patience, there will likely be a wait and it takes about 20 minutes to fill out the paperwork.

Updated 10:05pm: By end of business Friday, the Travis County Clerk’s Office had issued 313 marriage licenses to different and same gender couples. In comparison, just 17 were delivered to couples yesterday. In a statement, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said, “On this historic day, the County Clerk’s office issued Texas marriage licenses to every eligible couple who desired one. My staff worked diligently to serve all those who came to the office; with most staff working for 13+ hours. County Clerk staff’s dedication and professionalism allowed us to serve the hundreds of Texans who wanted a marriage license today."

The Travis County Clerk's Office opens again at 8am on Monday. For more on when, where, and how to obtain a marriage license, read here.

See photo gallery: "Love Wins: Same-Sex Couples Make It Official."

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