Texas same-sex couple quickly granted marriage license after filing federal lawsuit

Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato

Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato KXAS-TV

Joe Stapleton and Jim CatoKXAS-TV

Joe Stapleton and Jim Cato

DALLAS — A same-sex couple was granted a marriage license Monday within hours of filing a federal lawsuit against a county clerk in Texas who cited religious opposition when denying them a license last week.

Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton filed the lawsuit against Hood County Clerk Katie Lang, saying they repeatedly were turned away when trying to obtain a license last week in Granbury, the county seat. The men were quickly granted a license and “are delighted” that they can get married in their home county, according to their attorney, Jan Soifer.

“It’s a shame that they needed to hire lawyers and file a lawsuit to make that happen,” Soifer said in a statement.

But the couple hasn’t withdrawn the lawsuit just yet. Soifer said they are seeking an agreement from Lang that her office will issue licenses to same-sex couples without delay, along with attorneys’ fees. The lawsuit alleges that Lang violated their right to equal protection under the law, among other charges.

Lang posted a statement on the Hood County clerk’s website saying others in her office would issue the licenses, but that “the religious doctrines to which I adhere compel me to personally refrain from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.”

Lang referred questions Monday to the Texas-based Liberty Institute, which litigates cases nationwide relating to religious liberty. The institute’s senior counsel, Jeremy Dys, said that while the U.S. Supreme Court was split in legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide in its ruling last month, it was unanimous in recognizing legal protections for public officials and others who invoke religious objections.

“The Supreme Court did not overrule the First Amendment on that day,” Dys said.

In a statement released earlier Monday, Soifer criticized Lang for issuing the license to Cato and Stapleton days after saying her office could not provide it because state forms were not updated with same-sex references.

Dys said Lang was concerned that altering a license could result in an accusation of tampering with a government document. Lang received an opinion from the Hood County attorney over the weekend saying she could issue the license, Dys said.

“The bottom line is somebody can walk in and get a marriage license if they’re entitled to a marriage license,” he said. “There’s no controversy here.”

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Hood County Attorney Lori Kaspar declined to provide details of her opinion to Lang, but noted that Lang took her advice and the license was issued.

Public officials take an oath to follow the law, and if they’re unable to complete that oath “due to personal conviction, then you need to get someone else to do it or to step aside,” Lang said. “I think as long as people get licenses then it doesn’t particularly matter who issues them.”

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