Tracey Knight didn’t know if the day would ever come when she would be legally married in the state of Texas.
At long last it did come Friday, after a landmark Supreme Court ruling swept away the state’s longtime ban against same-sex marriage.
“We dreamed of this day,” said Knight, a corporal with the Fort Worth Police Department who serves as the LGBT community liaison. “We weren’t sure if it would ever happen. Now we have started planning our wedding.”
Knight and her wife, Shannon, who wed two years ago in California but wanted to exchange vows again in Texas, shared smiles and tears Friday as they were the first same-sex couple in Tarrant County to receive a marriage license.
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But not everyone was celebrating.
Republican officials denounced the ruling, as Gov. Greg Abbott urged Texas officials to not abandon their “sincerely held religious beliefs” and Attorney General Ken Paxton called for county workers to wait for his direction before issuing the licenses.
County clerk offices in Collin, Denton, Johnson, Parker and Wise counties heeded the warnings and were among those not issuing same-sex marriage licenses as of late Friday, citing reasons ranging from waiting for an AG ruling on the issue to not having the proper state forms.
“Texans’ fundamental right to religious liberty remains protected,” said Abbott, who was among the politicians encouraging those who disagreed with the ruling to contribute to their campaigns. “No Texan is required by the Supreme Court’s decision to act contrary to his or her religious beliefs regarding marriage.”
By nightfall, celebrations kicked off locally and statewide to herald the historic court ruling — and some light sculptures on Lancaster Avenue switched to rainbow colors.
During an evening rally at Celebration Community Church, Michael Zeigler and Victor Lopez exchanged vows before a crowd of hundreds.
The two Fort Worth men, who were celebrating their 20th anniversary, said they knew Friday would be the day they married once the ruling came out.
“We look forward to spending the rest of our lives together,” Lopez said.
That’s a feeling the Knights and others shared on Friday.
“I couldn’t be more happy to get married in the great state of Texas,” said Tracey Knight, who teared up as she got her marriage license, sharing a hug with her wife and their daughter, Evan. “I feel blessed every day. This just makes it better.”
Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling was issued at 9 a.m., a few couples headed to the Tarrant County Plaza Building, where marriage licenses are issued.
Initially, they were were turned away as county clerk officials waited for directions from the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. Within a short period of time, the DA’s office gave the county the go-ahead to issue licenses to “all persons who qualify, regardless of their sex.”
Long before lunchtime, the first same-sex marriage license was issued to the Knights. By early afternoon, two more same-sex marriage licenses had been issued and more were on the way.
Jane Kline was one of those initially turned away when she asked about getting a same-sex marriage license in Fort Worth.
The 58-year-old said she wanted to marry her partner of more than two decades in Texas. And she wanted to do it quickly.
“In Texas, if you don’t do it right away, they’ll do something to stop it,” she said.
So she and her partner headed to Dallas to get a license — and a judge to waive the 72-hour waiting period required between when a license is issued and a wedding can take place so they could be legally married in Texas before the end of the day.
She said she was thrilled by Friday’s court ruling, which, for the first time, gave her “a feeling of belonging to the human race.”
“I have a family that loves me … and I know I belong to them,” she said tearfully. “But now I feel like I belong to everybody. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Terri Saad and Alice Watson know that feeling well.
The couple, together for more than 16 years, got their marriage license in Tarrant County Friday.
They held a commitment ceremony in Texas in 2008, but they said it’s not the same as being formally married in the eyes of the state.
“In our minds, we’ve already been married,” Saad said. “But this feels right. It feels like our country finally validates us.”
Tarrant County quickly moved to issue same-sex marriage licenses Friday.
In Dallas County, officials began issuing same-sex marriage licenses, extending regular working hours and judges worked to waive the waiting period so couples could marry the same day.
Licenses were being issued, and marriages were performed, across the state.
In Houston, the county clerk initially put the brakes on the issuance of licenses, saying he needed state approval, only to change course within hours.
In Denton County, a note was taped to the door saying the office “is not issuing same-sex marriage licenses today” because of changes that must be made through the vendor.
County clerk officials in Johnson and Parker counties said they didn’t have the proper forms from the state and wouldn’t approve same-sex licenses until they do.
Wise County officials weren’t issuing licenses, as they waited for the attorney general’s interpretation of the law. Neither was Collin County, which was consulting with lawyers.
As many as 23,209 same-sex couples — half of the estimated 46,401 same-sex couples in Texas — could exchange vows in the Lone Star State in the first three years it is legal, according to a recent report by the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.
In recent years, as other states began allowing same-sex marriages, Texas remained one of 13 holdout states.
State lawmakers here in 2003 banned gay marriage and voters in 2005 added that ban to the state’s constitution, stipulating that marriage is a union of one man and one woman.
That ban has been in jeopardy since last year, when a federal judge in San Antonio said it was unconstitutional — but delayed overturning it until a higher appeals court could weigh in on the issue.
Friday’s Supreme Court ruling followed a decision last week that allowed Texas’ first same-sex divorce of a couple married in another state.
And earlier this year, a marriage license was issued to two women in Austin, one of whom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, in the state’s first same-sex marriage that Paxton later declared void.
Conservative Republican Texas lawmakers earlier this year proposed several bills to try to curb same-sex marriages in case the Supreme Court ruled they were constitutional.
One proposal that died in the waning days of the session would have prevented state and local officials from issuing same-sex marriage licenses by taking away the salaries of officials who gave out or honored those licenses.
“We did very little about defending the state against the Supreme Court ruling that has to do with the institution of marriage,” said state Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington. “We have done nothing to help ourselves [and] … it could have a very bad effect on the state.”
Conservative lawmakers did pass the Pastor Protection Act, which protects religious officials and lets them refuse to conduct wedding ceremonies that go against their religious beliefs.
Zedler has said he was disappointed that the Legislature didn’t go further.
“We made it where pastors can’t be forced to violate their religious conscience, but we did nothing to help others, like florists and the people who make the wedding cakes,” he said.
Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked for an AG’s opinion on the Supreme Court ruling.
“It has been said that those who oppose gay marriage are on the wrong side of history,” he said. “I would rather be on the wrong side of history than on the wrong side of my faith and my beliefs. I believe I am not alone in that view in this country.”
Some lawmakers, meanwhile. cheered the historic nature of Friday’s ruling.
“Millions of men and women across our nation will have the ability to legally marry the person they love,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie. “Finally, LGBT Texans in committed relationships will be afforded the same rights as other married couples.
“Unfortunately, here in Texas, (Friday’s) decision will face resistance by our state’s leadership,” he said. “Like many that have come before, history will prove this decision to be the right one.”
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610