Texas County Pays $44K for Gay Marriage Snit

     FORT WORTH (CN) – A Texas county will pay $44,000 to settle a civil rights lawsuit over its clerk’s refusal to issue a gay couple a marriage license for religious reasons, the couple’s attorneys said.
     James Cato and Joe Stapleton, of Granbury, sued Hood County Clerk Katie Lang in Federal Court on July 6 after she repeatedly refused to issue them a license . The men applied after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges on June 26 struck down state bans on same-sex marriage.
     Obergefell invalidated a voter-approved 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution that defined marriage between a man and a woman.
     Hood County’s seat, Granbury, is about 40 miles southwest of Fort Worth.
     The men said they were “humiliated” by Lang and her staff, who had six deputies sent to guard the office during their latest attempt to get married.
     Lang publicly blasted the Supreme Court for “newly inventing” a constitutional right to gay marriage. She cited a June 28 nonbinding opinion by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who urged county clerks and justices of the peace not to issue licenses or perform same-sex marriages if they had religious objections.
     Lang then changed her mind, saying her employees could issue same-sex marriage licenses when her office received updated forms from the state. When she turned the plaintiffs away again claiming, there would be a three-week delay in receiving the updated forms, the men sued. Within hours, Lang issued them a marriage license on the office’s existing forms.
     Attorneys Jan Soifer and Austin Kaplan, both of Austin, said Monday the county agreed to pay their clients more than $43,800 in attorneys’ fees to settle the lawsuit. They said Cato and Stapleton were “subjected to degrading and disrespectful treatment and unnecessary and malicious delay” in waiting to be married and suffered “significant emotional and mental distress” by having to hire lawyers to get married.
     “Hood County’s potential financial exposure for damages and attorneys’ fees in the lawsuit exceeded half a million dollars, not including the amount the county would have had to pay its own lawyers to defend this case,” the attorneys said in a statement. “To avoid this exposure to Hood County taxpayers for the actions of Clerk Land and her Liberty Institute lawyer, Cato and Stapleton agreed to waive any recovery for the harm this caused them and agreed to drop the lawsuit if their attorneys were paid for the legal work done to enforce their civil rights.”
     The attorneys will donate a portion of the settlement fee to the Equality Texas Foundation, a gay rights group.
     Soifer said Lang is “fortunate” that county commissioners agreed to settle the lawsuit and spare her and the county from “significant financial exposure.”
     Cato said he and his spouse are “overjoyed” at the outcome. They are now man and husband.
     Lang could not be reached for comment Monday evening.
     A county clerk in Kentucky is recapitulating Lang’s journey through the courts by refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses.
     Two gay couples sued Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis for refusing to issue them licenses last week, and a federal judge ordered her to issue them. Rowan defied the judge’s orders. He agreed to stay his ruling to let her appeal to the Sixth Circuit.

%d bloggers like this: