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Gay Couple Suing Hood County Gets Marriage License

A Granbury gay couple on Monday obtained a marriage license from the Hood County Clerk's office after filing a lawsuit against the clerk in federal court.

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment.

A Granbury gay couple on Monday obtained a marriage license from the Hood County Clerk's office after filing a lawsuit against the clerk in federal court.

But attorneys representing Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton, who have been together for 27 years, said the couple will move forward with their lawsuit until the county clerk's office agrees to issue marriage licenses to all couples. 

"Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton are delighted that they finally have been issued a marriage license and can get married in their home county," the gay couple's attorneys, Jan Soifer and Austin Kaplan, said in a statement. "It’s a shame that they needed to hire lawyers and file a lawsuit to make that happen." 

The Hood County Clerk's office would not say whether it is issuing same-sex marriage licenses and referred questions regarding the licenses to County Clerk Katie Lang's personal attorneys.

Lang's lawyers at the Liberty Institute, which specializes in religious freedom litigation, said the clerk's office was unable to issue the license on Thursday "because of software issues" and "lack of guidance" from the county attorney on using existing forms. 

Hood County Attorney Lori Kaspar said Lang did not ask her opinion regarding the use of existing forms until Friday via email, but the county was closed for the holiday.

"Early this morning, I advised Lang to write the information into the license by hand using the existing form, which she did," Kaspar said.

"The Clerk’s office was unable to issue a license at close of business on Thursday, even though everyone left with the understanding that one would be immediately available on the next business day," said Jeremy Dys, senior counsel at the Liberty Institute. "The office was closed Friday. This morning, as of about 8:00 a.m., there is a marriage license waiting for the couple that has, for some reason, sued Hood County."

In a complaint filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth, Cato and Stapleton told the court that Lang had violated the couple's constitutional rights by refusing to issue them a marriage license despite the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex marriages are protected by the U.S. Constitution.

In a June 26 ruling, the high court found that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and that states must license a marriage between two people of the same sex, overriding the state's longstanding ban on same-sex marriage.

Citing her religious beliefs, Lang initially said her office would not grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She also pointed to an opinion written by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he stated that county clerks in Texas who have religious objections to same-sex marriage can opt out of issuing such licenses — though he warned them they could face litigation.

Lang then said she would "personally refrain" from issuing them but that other members of her staff would grant the licenses once "the appropriate forms have been printed and supplied to my office."

Cato and Stapleton's first attempt to obtain a marriage license was on June 29, according to the complaint. After they were unsuccessful, Soifer and Kaplan sent a letter to Lang on Thursday demanding that her office issue the couple a marriage license by the end of the business day or risk being sued in federal court Monday morning.

By Thursday afternoon, the couple was still unable to obtain a marriage license. 

The gay couple's attorneys contend that the marriage license is gender neutral because it includes two blanks for the names of the applicants — one of which is preceded by "Mr." and the other with the letter "M."

"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," the attorneys wrote in their complaint.

Lang's office eventually issued the couple a marriage license "in handwriting on the existing license form, which proves that County Clerk Lang easily could have complied with the law without waiting ten days," the couple's attorneys said.

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