Harris County Issues First-Ever Legal Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

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At 9 a.m. Friday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. (If you haven't read it, you should, because it's beautiful.) Here in Houston, couples started arriving at Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart's downtown office to apply for marriage licenses about an hour after the decision was announced. They were some of the first same-sex couples to exercise their rights to obtain marriage licenses in Harris County, but they won't be the last. While they waited, they told us how they got here as couples:

John LaRue and Hunter Middleton

Nobody realized the first same-sex couple to apply for a marriage license had arrived at the Harris County Clerk's Office until they'd already slipped past reporters from almost every news outlet in town and were standing in line waiting to be helped.

John LaRue, 30, and Hunter Middleton, 29, had waited a little while after getting the news that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled 5-4 in favor of gay marriage. LaRue was wearing a brown suit with a pale blue shirt and a seashell pink bowtie, but Middleton changed his clothes twice before he found the right thing to wear to go downtown and apply for a marriage license: a charcoal gray suit and a magenta shirt.

When they walked into the county clerk's office there wasn't any line. The staff behind a long counter of desks looked at the men blankly while photographers snapped their picture and reporters asked how to spell their names. A woman behind the counter motioned them forward and LaRue spoke in a loud clear voice. “Excuse me,” LaRue asked a woman behind the desk, “we’d like to apply for a marriage license.”

Sorry, the woman told the couple. “We don’t have the right forms. We’re waiting on the changes from the state.” LaRue, a lawyer, had been expecting this.

The couple met on OkCupid. “We always thought that I started flirting with him first,” LaRue says. “But we looked at the accounts a few weeks ago and he was the one who messaged me.” LaRue knew before they'd met in person that Middleton was the man he'd been looking for. “I knew I was going to marry him before we had our first date. It's hard to explain but I was sure,” he says now.

They met exactly one year and two months ago at Agora, a coffee shop on Westheimer. Middleton had just moved to town to be closer to family, and LaRue had moved to Houston from Washington D.C. Middleton played it cool, but LaRue was so nervous he could barely make eye contact. It took Middleton a little longer to decide he'd met his match in LaRue. “It was probably about three months after we started dating,” he says. “We realized that we're better together than we'd ever be apart.”

LaRue says he's been sure that gay marriage would be legalized since the Supreme Court decided United States vs. Windsor in 2013. “I was standing on the steps of the Supreme Court when they announced that decision. It was the most transcendent moment. I knew it would happen eventually.” And then he met Middleton, and he was even sure of exactly who he was going to marry.

The proposal didn't come with fireworks or any grand gestures. A few weeks ago, LaRue and Middleton were walking their dog in their Upper Kirby neighborhood and talking about the upcoming Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

There's probably going to be an issue with the county clerk's office, because I've been reading that they aren't getting ready, LaRue told Middleton. I think we should go down there and apply for our license as soon as the decision comes out.

Middleton laughed. You have to actually ask me to marry you first, he said.

Well I think that's what I'm doing right now, LaRue replied, gripping the dog's leash.

The couple showed up at the courthouse shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday morning. They were surprised to be the first couple there, but LaRue was prepared to deal with the county clerk's office not being ready to marry same-sex couples, despite the Supreme Court's decision. After they were turned away the first time, LaRue and Middleton calmly waited in the hall and talked to the reporters gathered to cover the story. When Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart appeared about 40 minutes later, the couple shook Stanart's hand and smiled politely as Stanart read a statement that his hands were tied until the state attorney general's office signed off on a changed marriage license application.

Middleton and LaRue leaned against a wall in the hallway and prepared to wait, but as soon as Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan issued his opinion on the matter the couple was back in the office asking again if they could have a marriage license. When an employee declined again, LaRue stood in the office and read Ryan's letter – Ryan had told Stanart and his office to simply use the existing forms, follow the Supreme Court's decision and start giving out licenses – aloud. "It's a simple change, and one other counties have made," LaRue says. "But we've waited this long for marriage equality. Another 30 min isn't going to kill us."

Finally, Stanart announced that he would start issuing licenses at 3 p.m. with or without the proper forms from the state. LaRue and Middleton were the first to get their license. They posed for pictures, arms around each other, heads touching, the license in their hands. Then they went and had carnitas and margaritas. “We haven't even started planning the wedding yet, but we've got three months. It's going to be big, white and gay,” LaRue says. “It's going to be wonderful,” Middleton says.

Dustin O'Quinn and Chris Cordeux

They thought the place would be packed. Dustin O'Quinn, 33, and his fiance Chris Cordeux, 35, rounded the corner to walk into the county clerk's office and were greeted by a clutch of reporters and one other couple in line ahead of them. Instantly surrounded by cameras and lights, the pair made their way into the office to procure a marriage license. It was just before lunchtime, but Stanart's office still wasn't issuing licenses because they were waiting on a change in the forms from the state government, a woman behind the counter explained. O'Quinn thanked the woman and then walked outside. He'd just asked for a marriage license, he realized. He was going to marry this man. The thought made him giddy. “It's exciting to be a part of history,” he said. “The Supreme Court has ruled. They can try to hold it back if they want to but it was a clear decision.”

“It's embarrassing! Should we tell how?” O'Quinn asked Cordeux. Cordeux laughed and shook his head. “Yeah, we were on Tinder. That's how this happened,” Cordeux said, grinning at O'Quinn.

O'Quinn met Cordeux when he was on holiday with friends in London. Both were signed onto the mobile dating website and started swiping through photos (swipe right if you like the guy's profile, left if you don't.) O'Quinn stopped at Cordeux's picture and swiped right. Across London, Cordeux did the same and the two started chatting and quickly agreed they needed to meet up. They clicked immediately.

Soon the couple was flying back and forth between London and Houston to see each other. The last time Cordeux flew into Houston, O'Quinn asked him to just stay. “We realized we never wanted to be apart from each other,” O'Quinn says.

The pair had planned on possibly making a trip to California to get married, but when they heard about the Supreme's Court's ruling they decided to get the license as soon as possible. “He's not from this country so we need to get married soon so he can stay. This way, we'll be able to apply for a green card, just like everyone else.”

O'Quinn, an immigration lawyer, was raised in Houston. The idea of being to walk into the county clerk's office and ask for a license always seemed like something that would happen everywhere else in the world before it happened in his hometown, he says. “Growing up in Texas, I never thought I'd see this day,” he says, turning to Cordeux and taking his hand.

Despite Justice Anthony Kennedy's ringing affirmation that same-sex couples have the right to marry in his opinion issued at 9 a.m. Friday morning, O'Quinn knew it probably wouldn't be a simple trip to the Harris County Clerk's Office to get their marriage license. “I have all the information right here,” O'Quinn says, pulling a print-out of the frequently asked questions page from the Harris County District Clerk's website. “I brought it with me, just in case.”

The couple plans to get lawfully wedded as soon as they get the license and complete the 72-hour waiting period to make sure Cordeux can stay in the country. Still, they're going to have a real celebration in a few months. “We'll definitely do something to mark the occasion, but we're doing this first,” O'Quinn says.

Rhea Jared and Georgette Monaghan

By the time Rhea Jared and Georgette Monaghan got to the county clerk's office, they knew that the clerk wasn't handing out marriage licenses.

Jared, 64, and Monaghan, 61, have known each other for a few years. They met in church and both of them liked to do volunteer work so they became friends. Hanging out, they found out they liked a lot of the same things, that they fit together. “Georgette's mind works a lot like mine does. We share interests, we feel the same way about life, about God, about how a person is supposed to live. It just made sense,” Jared says.

In January the friends decided there was something between them. Within months they'd moved in together in a place near Bear Creek, and they knew this was it. “We're old,” Monaghan says, almost imperceptibly leaning closer to Jared. “We don't have time to change our minds.”

“We've known since this started that we were going to spend the rest of our lives together,” Jared says. “Whether we got married or not, we knew we'd be together from now on. We decided to do this today though because this is historic. We don't have to be married to know we'll be together forever, but we want to be a part of history.”

Monaghan, an army brat who claims Houston as her hometown, came out when she was in college, but she says it was still a time of secrecy. “Back then you had to lie about who you loved. People had fake boyfriends and they hid who they were. Now this is happening,” she says. She's been confident that gay marriage would be legalized since the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. “I knew then that it was going to happen and it was going to happen in the next five years. The country was ready for it,” she says.

“I didn't know it would happen,” Jared says. “I came out late – not until I was in my 40s – so I never thought this would happen.”

Wearing fake-flowered leis around their necks, the women walked walked into the county clerk's office and asked a woman behind the counter for a marriage license. Again, someone came over and explained that no marriage licenses were being issued today because they were waiting on the state to change the application forms. “No marriage licenses at all?” Jared asked. “That's wonderful!” Everyone – both straight and same-sex couples – being denied a license means that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, she explained. Both women grinned as they went back outside to wait for their license.

They dutifully lined up when a security guard told everyone there to get married to get in line. They were determined to get the license today. “There's a mass wedding tonight at our church at 5 p.m. and we're planning on going to that,” Jared says.

After that they'll go out to eat to celebrate. “Somewhere celebratory. Not Mexican food though because we've had that a lot recently,” Jared says.

“The whole weekend will be celebratory,” Monaghan says.

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