Texas couple sues county clerk for refusing to issue marriage license

Texas couple Jim Cato and Joe Stapleton have been together for 27 years. After the Supreme Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for their state to prohibit same-sex marriage, they decided to make it official, as it were.

However, every time they have gone to their county clerk’s office to get a marriage license, they have been told that the office isn’t issuing them. From The Dallas Morning News:

Initially Katie Lang, the county clerk, said her office wasn’t issuing licenses because of her religious beliefs; she then clarified her statement to indicate she wouldn’t issue licenses, but her staffers would. But on Thursday, the couple says they were told the the same thing The Dallas Morning News was when we called to inquire about the issuing of licenses: It would take several weeks because the clerk’s office didn’t yet have the forms from the state.

By itself, that would be enough for Cato and Stapleton to sue for the right to marry in their state, but when the couple went back to the office on Thursday to try again, things got weird in the clerk’s office. According to a lawsuit filed this morning:

Rainbow Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

Rainbow Texas, via Wikimedia Commons

…on Thursday the couple went to the clerk’s office and “produced a copy of the revised application for marriage license, promulgated by the state and available to county clerks, and asked if they could use it to apply.” But a woman named Virginia in the clerk’s office “told them she could not accept that form. Then Clerk Lang asked everyone to leave the office, stating that no media was allowed. Jim replied that Joe and Jim were not media, but instead taxpayers of Hood County, there to get a marriage license, but the Clerk said they needed to leave as well, which was humiliating. Clerk Lang also apparently called the Sheriff’s Department, because by the time Joe and Jim left her office, approximately half a dozen deputy sheriffs had arrived to stand guard outside and immediately inside the Clerk’s office.”

This scenario, in which a state official cites their religious beliefs in refusing to issue a marriage license to a same sex couple, and is subsequently sued, is exactly the scenario outlined by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last Sunday in a statement suggesting that he would do “everything I can” to protect clerks who deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. In the opinion, he warned state officials that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and that they were more than welcome to resist that law as long as they understood they could and would face lawsuits as a result.

In other words, the Hood County clerk’s office knows what they’re doing is illegal, and they don’t care. They took an oath to execute the laws of the state, and have instead chosen to execute the laws of their personal religious preference.

America was founded on the idea that public officials aren’t ministers of God. Sooner or later, Jim Cato and Joseph Stapleton are getting married. The only question is how inconvenient Texas’s public officials and court system will choose to make the process.

UPDATE: The Hood County clerk’s office processed Cato and Stapleton’s marriage license today following the filing of the lawsuit. However, lawyers for the couple have said that the lawsuit will progress as planned until they have assurances that the office will process marriage licenses for all couples, not just those who sue for them.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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14 Responses to “Texas couple sues county clerk for refusing to issue marriage license”

  1. Alex E says:

    In some parts of Texas have the highest level of same-sex couples per 1,000 households
    http://www.vividmaps.com/2015/06/same-sex-couples-per-1000-households.html

  2. Buford says:

    The really big question – when will these people who leverage the RFRA to bypass laws have to actually prove that the act in question violates a key tenet of their faith, as opposed to their claims always automatically being accepted at face value..!??!

    Face it – the Bible doesn’t even mention gay marriage, so it can’t forbid it, and it CERTAINLY doesn’t forbid some bureaucrat from issuing a license for gay marriage. The same with the Hobby Lobby decision regarding contraception… or even abortion. If they want to claim that their faith forbids something, they should have to convince a court that the claim is true.

  3. Buford says:

    Liberty also represented Katie Lang in this case, and you see how that turned out.

  4. Palto says:

    Yes and I’m sure they’re brilliant LOL.

  5. Palto says:

    Who do these God fearing clerks think pay their salaries? These jugheads have no problem taking gay money in their paychecks.

  6. Thom Allen says:

    A clerk in Irion County, TX is refusing to issue marriage licenses to LGBT couples. Liberty Counsel, an evangelical RWNJ group, is going to represent her for free if she gets sued.

  7. Thom Allen says:

    Also part of the suit is to get their attorneys’ fees reimbursed by Lang.

  8. BeccaM says:

    And a ton of civil lawsuits.

  9. Esther Clark says:

    After Brown v Board it took the passage of the civil rights act before schools were integrated.

  10. Outspoken1 says:

    “All’ means only people similar to them – not ‘all’ as in people different than them!!!

  11. Don Chandler says:

    Just saw your update, Jon ;)

    DALLAS (AP) — A gay 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….

  12. BeccaM says:

    This is exactly what I meant when I said the fight for marriage equality rights is far from over. If gay and lesbian couples have to hire lawyers just to receive the marriage licenses to which they are legally entitled, this is discrimination.

  13. Don Chandler says:

    It’s a new level of obstructionism in the country. It took well over 50 years of legal process to get marriage equality passed. In one comment, Scalia can dismiss it all as Jiggery Pokery lending a small town clerk the hubris to “veto” the Supreme Court ruling. But it isn’t like we haven’t seen this before. The call for integration/desegregation was legally mandated in the late sixties and back then there were racist laggards that refused to comply.

    In court, it’s an obvious ruling anywhere but Texas: for the plaintiff’s. Because the only thing giving the court authority are the laws themselves and why would a court undermine itself. The laws are what keep us from killing each other. We citizens don’t always like them, but we know we are ultimately the beneficiaries of law.

    I guess the reason it’s a new level of obstructionism is due to “every Tom, Dick, and Lang” having a gun, confederate flag and renegade Attorney General/Sheriff’s department in a “Don’t Mess with Texas” environment. It’s kind of worrisome. Rural Texans seem forget they are part of Austin.

    Personally, I’m glad it’s a couple that has been together for 27 years ;)

  14. iamlegion says:

    In other words, the Hood County clerk’s office knows what they’re doing is illegal, and they don’t care.

    This. this right here is the key point of this whole discussion. These clerks swore to servce _all_ the citizens of their respective counties, not just the ones they like or agree with or whatever – ALL of them. And they are knowingly and willfully refusing to do that. IANAL, but doesn’t that remove sovereign immunity as a potential defense? Is the TX AG even allowed to offer resources in support of willful refusal to obey the law?

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