Wait to Wed

Published on Friday, 26 June 2015 22:24 - Written by Adam Russell, arussell@tylerpaper.com

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Lou Anne Smoot and Brenda McWilliams have considered themselves married for more than a decade.

Both are active Christians and look forward to the day they can get a marriage certificate and share in the rights the document carries regarding benefits and property. But they aren’t worried about delays by state agencies in recognizing their union.

They’ve been in a committed relationship for 14 years and have considered themselves married that long.

“The other is a civil ceremony,” Ms. Smoot said.

They attended a news conference at the Smith County Courthouse Annex on Friday to see how the Smith County clerk’s office would proceed following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling earlier in the day to make same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

County Clerk Karen Phillips said her office would not provide marriage certificates until state officials made a determination regarding the court’s ruling.

Mrs. Phillips said she would follow the law but said the state’s Department of State Health Services Vital Statistics Unit General Counsel would review the ruling, in consideration with the Texas Attorney General.  

Officials in other East Texas counties, including Cherokee, Gregg, Henderson, Rusk, Upshur and Wood, took a similar stance, saying they were not issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples until they received further direction from the state.

Late Friday, the Texas Department of State Health Services put out a notice indicating the state registrar had revised the application for marriage licenses.

During a Friday afternoon news conference called by Mrs. Phillips, more than 20 gay and lesbian rights supporters listened as she read a prepared statement. After she read the remarks, Mrs. Phillips began to exit the room. When asked by the Tyler Morning Telegraph whether she would answer questions, she shook her head, “No.”

“Is that it?” a voice from the crowd asked.

Mrs. Phillips stepped back in and answered, “It is what it is,” and briefly reiterated that it was a state delay with regard to legally recognized documents before exiting the side door.

Many in the crowd were upset Mrs. Phillips wouldn’t answer questions or issue marriage licenses, as other counties in the state did Friday, including Dallas and Bexar counties.

Bexar County Clerk Gerard Rickhoff, who is a Republican, said county clerks opting to wait for state direction are delaying the inevitable.

Rickhoff has full confidence the state will accept marriage certificates being filled out by gay and lesbian couples there, where applicants are striking references to “man” and “woman.” He said new forms are unnecessary because they are civil process filings that can be modified by individuals as with any contract, such as a land agreement.

“There will be no cloud or any dissent on any of these licenses we’ve issued,” he said. “They’re all in good faith and all will withstand any scrutiny of law.”

Rickhoff said dissenting Supreme Court justices made strong and deserving cases for states’ rights that deserve examination but that he is moving forward.

Rickhoff said any couples facing resistance or civil disobedience should travel to Bexar County to be “treated with dignity and respect.

“This is a pivotal moment in history and you always want to be on the right side of history,” he said.

Jolie Smith and D. Karen Wilkerson of Tyler planned to marry Friday. They were the first couple to show up at Mrs. Phillips’ office following the ruling. They said they had a district judge ready to waive the 72-hour period all couples must wait upon filing with Texas county clerks’ offices and a pastor prepared to officiate a ceremony.

A tearful Ms. Smith congratulated heterosexual couples exiting the clerk’s office with their marriage licenses Friday morning after being unable to obtain one herself.

“It hurts to watch other couples walk out of here with a license and we can’t, even though the Supreme Court says we can be married,” Ms. Smith said.

Ms. Wilkerson, who has been a Democratic and equal-rights activist for decades, was sharp in her criticism of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Mrs. Phillips.

“It’s obstructionist plain and simple,” she said.

Ms. Wilkerson has filed a complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union. Her attorney, Blake Bailey, filed for a temporary injunction in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, seeking a federal judge to compel the clerk’s office to issue licenses.

Tyler Area Gays and other lesbian, gay and transgender support groups and supporters gathered for a protest in downtown Tyler Friday evening.

Ms. Smoot and Ms. McWilliams said the morality of gay and lesbian marriage will be debated among theologians as long as there are differing opinions, but the Supreme Court ended the argument with regard to their rights under the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal rights for all.

Ms. McWilliams said she expected delay tactics to slow the inevitable. She also respects individual church denominations’ right to refuse to officiate ceremonies based on their faith.

“It’s been a long time coming and we’re ready to get (married) now,” she said. “But I look forward to the day when there is unity and we can come together as brothers and sisters in Christ even when we disagree.”

Kenneth Dean contributed to this report.

Twitter: @newsboyAdam

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Marrying in Texas

Requirements to apply and obtain a marriage license in Texas. 

Both parties must be present to apply for a marriage license. 

Be 18 or older or if a minor call the local county clerk’s office. 

Bring a valid driver’s license. 

Know Social Security numbers

Know city, county and state where you were born.