In Texas, Hood County Clerk Katie Lang had refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples for well over a week after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. The conservative group Texas Values rallied in her defense and even the Family Research Council propped up her discriminatory cause. On Monday, however, Lang folded, and she may now have to pay the price for waiting.
Since June 29, the Monday after the ruling, Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, have been trying to obtain the marriage license they’ve waited so long for. When rejecting them, Lang claimed that her staffers would issue the license instead, but Cato and Stapleton were then told they couldn’t be helped because the clerk’s office did not have the new gender-neutral forms, which would supposedly take “three or more weeks” to arrive.
Last Thursday, they brought their own copy of the state’s new form, and still they were refused a license. When they insisted, Lang told everyone to leave the office and called the Sheriff’s Department, who stood guard but did not force anyone out. Cato and Stapleton had been in touch with their lawyer, who arrived at Lang’s office to deliver a letter warning of a suit if a license wasn’t issued. A staffer began to process their application, but then asked, “Which of you will be the husband?” When they insisted upon the new form, which lists “applicant 1” and “applicant 2” instead of “husband” and “wife,” the staffer then refused to accept their payment of the $83 fee. Lang reappeared and confirmed that they would still have to wait several weeks to get their license anyway because she had to wait for revised certificate forms, even though a different-sex couple could have filed the form and left with a license the same day.
Monday morning, Cato and Stapleton filed a federal lawsuit, which describes their experiences being rejected as “humiliating and degrading.” Less than two hours after the suit was filed, Lang’s office issued the couple a marriage license.
But as their attorney, Jan Soifer, explained shortly thereafter, the suit would proceed. “It’s a shame that they needed to hire lawyers and file a lawsuit to make that happen,” Soifer said. Because the issuing of the license proved the office could have done the same ten days prior, “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.” Under federal law, if Cato and Stapleton are deemed the “prevailing party” in their suit, Lang — or state — may indeed be responsible for paying those attorneys’ fees.
Watch an excerpt from their press conference from Monday afternoon, via The Dallas Morning News:
Lang’s office has yet to comment on the suit or the availability of marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Either way, as Cato described it, “It’s an incredible day. It’s a historic day for Hood County.”