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Same-sex couple marries in Texas under one-time order

February 20, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A lesbian couple wed in the capital of fiercely conservative Texas on Thursday, defying a statewide ban on gay marriage after being granted a license under a one-time court order because one of the women has cancer.

The women — together for more than 30 years — said their union was the first legal same-sex marriage since Texas voters overwhelmingly approved the ban in 2005, though it wasn’t immediately clear if the state would recognize the marriage.

Texas’ attorney general immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court, which later agreed to block other gay couples from obtaining marriage licenses but didn’t address the Austin marriage of Suzanne Bryant and Sarah Goodfriend. Attorney General Ken Paxton said he considers their marriage void, but a court hasn’t ruled on that issue. A spokeswoman for Paxton’s office said Thursday night that the state would file additional paperwork Friday. But it was unclear if the attorney general or his staff had the standing to make such a declaration unilaterally.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to determine later this year whether gay marriage bans nationwide are unconstitutional. The legal tide has in recent years swung sharply in favor of gay marriage, which has rapidly gained acceptance, according to polls.

Texas’ ban on gay marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in San Antonio last year, but the judge put the ruling on hold amid the ongoing court fight. The state’s appeal is pending.

County Clerk Dana Debeauvoir said she issued the license, but that any other licenses must be court ordered.

“We are all waiting for a final decision on marriage equality,” Debeauvoir said. “However, this couple may not get the chance to hear the outcome of this issue because one person’s health.”

The marriage license was issued exclusively for Goodfriend, who has ovarian cancer, and Bryant in liberal-leaning Austin. The couple requested the license two days after a local judge ruled in an unrelated estate case that Texas’ gay-marriage ban was unconstitutional. The couple cited that case, saying it should allow them to get married.

Austin-based Democratic state District Judge David Wahlberg sided with the couple and directed the county clerk to immediately stop relying on “the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage as a basis for not issuing a marriage license.”

Courts made a similar exception in Indiana for a lesbian couple in April because one of the women was dying of cancer and wanted her partner’s name on her death certificate. A federal appeals court overturned Indiana’s ban in September.

Paxton, a Republican who took over as attorney general in January, filed for an emergency stay Thursday morning and took the unusual step of asking Texas Supreme Court justices to rule within the hour. Justices didn’t heed the request.

Goodfriend, a policy director for a Texas state representative, said during a midday news conference that her last chemotherapy treatment was four and a half months ago. But, she added: “All of us wonder if the cancer grows back along with the hair growing back.”

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