Texas County Clerk|Is in a Fine Mess

GRANBURY, Texas (CN) – A Texas county clerk who made headlines by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses despite a Supreme Court ruling relented Monday, after a gay couple sued her in Federal Court.
     James Cato and Joe Stapleton sued Hood County Clerk Katie Lang on Monday morning, as they promised they would after they were denied a marriage license last week.
     The men say they were “humiliated” by Lang and her staff on Thursday when they tried to apply for a marriage license.
     Lang even called the Sheriff’s Office on them, which sent six deputies to guard the County Clerk’s Office, the men say in the lawsuit.
     They have tried to get married at Lang’s office several times since the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 struck down state bans on same-sex marriage.
     Lang initially refused to issue the licenses at all, criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court for “newly inventing” a constitutional right to gay marriage.
     She changed her mind four days after the ruling, but said it would take at least three weeks to receive updated forms from the state.
     Cato, Stapleton and others called that claim bogus, saying that the forms were already available on the Internet.
     After changing her mind, Lang said she would not issue the licenses herself, but that someone on her staff would.
     Cato and Stapleton say that’s not true either.
     “Assistant Deputy Clerk Virginia again told them that the office would not issue them a marriage license as it did not have the proper forms,” the complaint states. “Jim and Joe then produced a copy of the revised application for marriage license, promulgated by the state and available to county clerks, and asked if they could use it to apply. Virginia told them she could not accept that form. Then Clerk Lang asked everyone to leave the office, stating that no media was allowed. Jim replied that he and Joe are not media, but instead are taxpayers of Hood County, there to get their marriage license, but the Clerk said they needed to leave as well, humiliating them for seeking a marriage license. Clerk Lang also apparently called the Sheriff’s Department, which sent over approximately half a dozen deputy sheriffs to stand guard outside and immediately inside the Clerk’s office.”
     Assistant Deputy Clerk Virginia would not tell them her last name, the men say in the lawsuit.
     Lang’s personal attorney, Chelsey Youman with the Liberty Institute in Plano, told the men the problem was not with the application forms, but that marriage license forms are still gender specific, according to the complaint.
     “Upon request, Clerk Lang provided a form marriage license for Hood County. This form is gender neutral; it does not include the words ‘male’ and ‘female’, ‘man’ and ‘woman’, ‘bride’ and ‘groom’, or ‘husband’ and ‘wife,'” the complaint states. “Instead, it has two blanks for the names of the applicants, the first of which is preceded by ‘Mr.’ and the second of which is preceded by the letter ‘M.’ When asked why this marriage license form could not be used for same-sex couples, Clerk Lang said that putting two male names on the application form would require the Clerk’s office to alter a public document, which would be a violation of law. In fact, putting an ‘r’ next to the ‘M’ for the second applicant would not ‘alter’ the form – it would accurately complete the form. It is clear that the reason provided by Clerk Lang is simply a pretext for her to violate Jim and Joe’s constitutional right to marriage and to delay issuing a license.”
     Hours after they filed their lawsuit, Cato and Stapleton were issued a handwritten marriage license using this form. Cato’s name was came first, labeled “Mr.” Stapleton’s name was labeled “M” with no “r.”
     Their attorneys, Jan Soifer and Austin Kaplan, both of Austin, said their clients are “delighted” to be able to get married in their home county, but will not drop the lawsuit.
     “It’s a shame that they needed to hire lawyers and file a lawsuit to make that happen,” the lawyers said in a statement. “The issuance of the license this morning immediately after the lawsuit was filed does not change the fact that Hood County Clerk Katie Lang has been willfully violating the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law since Friday, June 26, when the Supreme Court issued its Obergefell opinion. The license was issued this morning, a few hours after the lawsuit was filed, in handwriting on the existing license form, which proves that County Clerk Lang easily could have complied with the law without waiting ten days. Under these circumstances, the lawsuit will not be dismissed until and unless we have an agreement from Clerk Lang that her office will issue marriage licenses to all couples, gay and straight, without delay, and an agreement to pay Jim and Joe’s attorneys’ fees for being forced to file the lawsuit.”
     In refusing to issue the license, Lang cited a Sunday, June 28 opinion letter from Attorney General Ken Paxton, who urged county clerks and justices of the peace not to issue licenses or perform same-sex marriages if they have religious objections to it.
     A June 30 ethics complain t to the State Bar accused Paxton of violating rules of professional conduct by sending his letter.
     Cato and Stapleton seek declaratory and injunctive relief for violations of their due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.
     Though they have their license at last, there is no news yet on whether Cato and Stapleton have officially tied the knot.

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