Victor Holmes and Mark Phariss, the same-sex couple who, along with Cleopatra De Leon and Nicole Dimetman, are challenging Texas' same-sex marriage ban.
When U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia ruled to strike down the Texas same-sex marriage ban
last February, he issued a stay on his decision, pending appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are scheduled for January 9, but on November 24, attorneys for the two same-sex couples challenging the Texas ban filed a motion in San Antonio asking Garcia to lift his stay. If he agrees, gay and lesbian couples could be allowed to get married immediately. And Bexar County officials say they are ready.
According to the Texas Observer,
Bexar County District Clerk Gerhard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff will respond to the decision by remaining open to accommodate the expected influx of LGBT couples seeking marriage licenses. In addition to the 'round-the-clock hours, Rickoff indicated he's considering setting up tables to issue licenses in Main Plaza. Judges will be on hand to waive the traditional 72-hour waiting period, and officiants are readied to conduct wedding ceremonies on-site.
In case you're wondering just how many gay and lesbian couples could there possibly be
in Bexar County, the San Antonio Metropolitan Area topped the nation in the percentage of same-sex couples raising children under the age of 18. That's according to a 2011 report by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles
, which compiled statistics from the 2010 U.S. Census and American Community Survey. Of the estimated 3,484 same-sex couples in the area, 1080—yes, one in three same-sex couples—were raising minor children in 2011. According to updated statistics for 2013,
22 percent of same-sex couples are raising children in San Antonio, but the decline in percentage numbers could be attributed to population growth in the region. (The city that took San Antonio's top spot, interestingly enough, is Salt Lake City, Utah.)
Many of these couples spend thousands to make legal and financial arrangements designed to protect assets and ensure their families remain intact should medical emergencies or worse arise, because they do not have the automatic rights and protections that an $81 marriage license provides. If Garcia lifts his stay, many of these couples will scramble to the Bexar County Courthouse to take advantage of the benefits of a legal marriage.
But Rickhoff does not expect everyone seeking a marriage license to be from San Antonio. Tarrant and Harris County clerks have stated they will not issue licenses if Garcia fulfills the plaintiff's request, according to the Observer
. Ft. Worth same-sex couples can drive to Dallas, which says they will issue marriage licenses, but same-sex couples from Houston and other parts of the state may make the drive down to Bexar County. Travis County will also issue licenses if Garcia sides with the plaintiffs.
“There’s a pent-up demand to stop these civil rights violations that are pretty evident,” Rickhoff told the Observer.
“I would imagine they’ll be driving into San Antonio in droves, and that’s what we’re prepared for. Nobody will be turned away. We’ll work until there’s nobody left.” Rickhoff is a Republican, by the way.
Whether or not those licenses will soon be issued to gay and lesbian couples is still a big if. Governor-elect and outgoing Attorney General Greg Abbott quickly filed his response to the plaintiffs motion on November 25
. You can read the plaintiff's motion and Abbott's response below.
Legal experts say it is likely Garcia will side with the plaintiffs. Attorneys argued the basis of the stay was made invalid after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the rulings of four federal appeals courts to strike-down same-sex marriage bans. Texas is one of the 15 states with bans on same-sex marriage still in effect.
San Antonio attorney Neel Lane, who is representing the plaintiffs, told the Current
it is likely Garcia will rule on behalf of the plaintiffs motion, but Garcia may allow Abbott to appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals before the lift takes effect. The Fifth Circuit is one of the more conservative federal appeals courts in the country and could decide to keep the stay in effect until they make a ruling on the case.
But if Garcia decides to lift the stay and allow same-sex marriages to begin immediately, it will be a Christmas miracle.