Texas Couple Gets Marriage License After Suing for Foot-Dragging

Updated on
Joe Stapleton, center, and Neill Wilkerson, right, exchange words during at the courthouse in Granbury, Texas, on Thursday, July 2, 2015, amid dueling same-sex marriage rallies.

Joe Stapleton, center, and Neill Wilkerson, right, exchange words during at the courthouse in Granbury, Texas, on Thursday, July 2, 2015, amid dueling same-sex marriage rallies.

Photographer: Joyce Marshall/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/TNS via Getty Images

– A gay couple that sued a rural Texas county clerk over a delay in the issuing of a marriage license received the certificate just hours after filing the complaint.

Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton say they won’t drop their lawsuit though until the clerk’s office agrees to issue marriage licenses to “all couples, gay and straight, without delay.” They also want their legal fees paid by the county.

Cato and Stapleton were repeatedly turned away last week by the clerk’s office in Hood County, about a half-hour southwest of the Fort Worth federal courthouse where they sued Monday. They said they were told it would take “at least three weeks,” because the county needed to have paperwork reprinted in a gender-neutral fashion.

The men said they have been “waiting over 27 years to marry” and were “humiliated” by county employees’ refusal.

Katie Lang, the county clerk, had said she won’t personally issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples because it violates her religious beliefs. She said someone else in her office would do so as soon as proper forms are supplied, according to a statement on the county clerk’s website.

The couple’s lawyer said he provided the clerk with copies of corrected state marriage-license applications from the state’s website. They were told a different form was still needed, according to the complaint.

No Reason

“There is absolutely no valid reason for your office to delay three additional weeks or more to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” attorney Jan Soifer said in a letter to Lang last week. “County clerks in Texas issued hundreds of such licenses the very day the Supreme Court issued its opinion” June 26 legalizing gay marriage.

Issuing the license a few hours after the lawsuit was filed “proves that County Clerk Lang easily could have complied with the law without waiting for 10 days,” Soifer said Monday in an e-mail.

Last week, Texas told the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans it was conceding legal battles against gays who sued for the right to wed.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told county clerks they had the right to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses on religious grounds but would likely be sued for it.

“We’re working on the first one,” Virginia Chavero, a Hood County deputy clerk, said of the county’s first same-sex marriage license Monday. “We are giving them out as of now.”

When asked if the county had received the reprinted marriage certificates, Chavero said, “not really, but we’re working on it.”

The case is Cato v Lang, 4:15-491, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE