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Ceremonies and Celebration as Marriages Begin

Texas couples began impromptu weddings in Travis County and others following Friday's U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states.

Sen. Kirk Watson D-Austin greets Anthony Tang and Jayme Mathias after a program at the Central Presbyterian Church on June 26, 2015  after the  U.S. Supreme Court overturned state bans on gay marriage June 26, 2015

Ingrid Ellerbee cried Friday afternoon as she exchanged vows with her partner of 17 years, Deanne Croan, at the Travis County courthouse during their impromptu wedding, one of the first same-sex marriages in Texas after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on gay marriage.

The couple has been unofficially married for 11 years, but the Austin residents said making their union official would help them take care of each other in old age.

"That's a big deal," Ellerbee, 54, said, "to not have to worry that if we go to visit my folks in Mississippi and end up in the hospital we don't end up in some big problem."

"Where they might not let us visit each other," Croan, 56, added. 

Croan and Ellerbee originally planned to marry next week, but decided to marry Friday out of concern about Attorney General Ken Paxton’s potential challenges to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Paxton on Thursday asked county clerks to wait until his office issued direction on how to proceed. His office had not issued a statement on the issue as of Friday evening.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Neel Lane, the lawyer for the gay couples who had sued Texas over its same-sex marriage ban in a separate case, reminded public officials who have sworn oaths to uphold the state and federal constitutions that they cannot delay enforcing the ruling. 

“There are consequences if you deny constitutional rights to citizens who live in your state in violation of that oath,” he said. “There will be lawyers who will hold you to that oath and hold you to that duty.”

The Travis County clerk’s office did not wait for guidance from Paxton’s office and began issuing licenses to same-sex couples shortly after 10:30 a.m. Friday. Croan and Ellerbee were among the first couples to obtain a license, and the office announced it would be open for extended hours through Independence Day weekend to accommodate increased demand.

As of 7:30 p.m. Friday, the office announced it had issued more than 250 marriage licenses, compared with 17 issued the day before the Supreme Court ruling.

In Texas, couples must wait 72 hours after obtaining a marriage license unless a judge waives their waiting period. Judges at the Travis County courthouse immediately began waiving the waiting period and marrying couples Friday afternoon.

Croan and Ellerbee were the first same-sex couple married by Justice of the Peace Herb Evans. The Austin natives had an excerpt from the Supreme Court’s ruling read at their courthouse ceremony.

“It all just came together and was perfect,” Ellerbee said. “We’re happy and thrilled to get it done.”

Texas gay marriage advocates capped off a day of celebration Friday at the Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Austin. State officials, including Austin Mayor Steve Adler and state Sen. Kirk Watson, were joined by Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, two women who along with another gay couple became the faces of Texas’ marriage equality fight after they sued the state over its ban. 

Organized by Equality Texas, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy group, the Austin event was one of several celebrating the Supreme Court’s “Decision Day.” Speaking to a packed church, Adler issued a proclamation declaring June 26 a marriage equality day for the city.

“In the end, today is about love wins,” he said. “What a wonderful day to be mayor of Austin, Texas.”

Though they married in 2009 in Massachusetts, De Leon and Dimetman were fighting to have their union recognized in their home state of Texas. The case was pending in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals when the Supreme Court ruled bans on gay marriage were no longer constitutional.

In their speech, the couple urged supporters to celebrate the victory, but keep fighting to end discrimination.

“It’s important to remain vigilant,” De Leon said. “If you find that your civil rights are being violated, don’t roll over and be a doormat. Stand up for yourselves. That’s what we did and look where we are today.”

Organizers said couples had planned to marry at the event, and clergy were available to conduct ceremonies, but no couples requested a marriage.

Rev. Jayme Mathias, a school board member for the Austin Independent School District, attended the event with his fiance, Anthony Tan. The couple obtained a license Friday from the Travis County clerk’s office, but decided to wait before having a ceremony.

“By pushing it out about three weeks, that will give us time to plan a wedding,” Mathias said, “and to book the tickets for a honeymoon in Hawaii.”

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