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Texas Counties Plan Varied Responses To Marriage Ruling

Todd Wiseman
Texas Tribune
Photo illustration

County clerks across Texas responding to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same-sex marriage are generally divided into two groups: those who plan to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and others who want to hear from State Attorney General Ken Paxton on how to proceed.

Bexar County Clerk Gerry Rickhoff said his office was prepared to issue licenses soon after the decision, and expects to stay open for additional hours to handle demand.

“We’re going to embrace it and stay open late until everybody who desires processing is processed,” Rickhoff said last week. “I think it’s very hard to predict what the demand might be. There are some counties I think are going to resist the change. The message is that everybody is welcome to Bexar County.”

Officials in Dallas County have said they will start handing out applications straightaway, and plan to offer extended hours if needed.

But Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart has expressed caution, saying that marriage forms listing “man” and “woman” as applicants will have to be changed before any licenses are issued.

“Our marriage application form is published by the State of Texas and we have to use the most recent form they produce,” read a statement from the Harris County clerk’s office.

The clerk’s office in El Paso will also wait for the go-ahead from Paxton before giving out licenses, said Carol Sagaribay, chief deputy county clerk. Unlike those in other counties, clerks in El Paso will not work overtime or on the weekend.

As soon as the state releases a new form including language allowing for a same-sex marriage, it will only take about an hour for the office to incorporate it in their software, Sagaribay said last week.

“If the law of the land has us do something, that’s exactly what we want to do,” she said.

In Austin, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvior said Friday she would await direction from the county attorney.

"We want to be confident that any action taken by the County' Clerk's Office will comport with the law, and this review is essential to ensure any license we issue is unassailable," she said in a statement. 

Paxton released a statement Thursday saying he recommends that all county clerks wait for his directive after he reviews the ruling.

"To be clear — the law in the state of Texas is that marriage is one man and one woman, and the position of this office is that the United States Constitution clearly does not speak to any right to marriage other than one man and one woman and that the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty and the right to believe in traditional marriage without facing discrimination," Paxton wrote.

The Texas Tribune provided this story.