The U.S. Supreme Court is due to hand down its decision on same-sex marriage this month. Depending on how the court rules, county clerks across the country could see countless gay couples lining up to apply for their marriage certificates. However, if same-sex couples show up to the offices of Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, it looks like they might have some trouble submitting their applications via the current state-issued application forms.
Stanart hasn't been shy about his personal views on the subject of gay marriage: he's against it. The thing is, Stanart seems to be something of a romantic at heart. He even redesigned the county marriage licenses with a “romantic style flair” in honor of Valentine's Day.
But Stanart's romantic nature is apparently untouched by the thought that countless couples who have made lives together without any legal acknowledgment of their relationship will very likely be showing up at his offices eager to finally marry as soon as the SCOTUS decision drops. Stanart isn't planning on staying open later or doing anything to prepare to handle an influx of same-sex couples should the Supremes decide in favor of gay marriage, and he doesn't seem concerned about getting the right application forms ahead of time from the state.
Yep, that's right, should the Supremes rule in favor of gay marriage this month – and the fact that Justice Anthony Kennedy, the resident swing vote on the court, has written virtually every opinion the court has issued on gay rights in the past decade, and has voted in favor of gay rights consistently, implies that the court will find in favor of same-sex marriage – couples who wish to apply in Harris County will still have the flimsy but challenging conundrum of a paperwork problem standing between them and that marriage license.
Why? Well, to apply for a marriage license in Harris County couples have to go down to the any of the ten Harris County Clerk's offices, pay $72 and fill out an application form. The application form is actually created by state officials and is printed from an online site, according to Stanart. The application form has a space for the name, social security number, address and other details for one female applicant and one male applicant — pretty much the only detail will present a problem until the state changes the forms.
While the county clerks in Travis and Bexar have publicly stated that they'll deal with the marriage application form problem by simply rewriting the form so that it won't be limited to a male and female couple, Stanart has no intentions of changing the form or doing anything to rush in and start letting gay couples get hitched as soon as the probably-favorable SCOTUS ruling is issued. It seems that even altering a couple of lines on the application form is way too close to supporting gay marriage. “Right now we're following the current law and we'll see what happens [with the U.S. Supreme Court], and then we'll see what guidance the state attorney general gives us, which direction he wants to go,” Stanart says.
Back in February state Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton responded to the first same-sex marriage held in Texas by immediately filing a request with the Texas Supreme Court to void the marriage, so he might just possibly be against any ruling that would make same-sex marriage legal everywhere in the United States. Stanart seems to be counting on that. “I'm going to have to follow whatever the state attorney general's guidance is. They're destroying an institution, the institution of marriage, but I'll follow what the current law of the land is,” he says.
Still, Stanart admits that it should be relatively easy for state officials to fix the forms since the state issues the forms online. (Dallas County is the only county that lets couples fill out their applications online, but every county, including Harris, has couples fill out the same application.) “The forms come from the state and I'd wait for the state to change the forms. I'm sure they'd make any changes necessary and we would use their forms,” Stanart says. “They're electronic and we'd just print them out.”
Don't expect Stanart to make the process any easier in the event of a gay rights-affirming SCOTUS ruling. Event though Stanart acknowledges that it should be a fairly simple adjustment to fix the application forms – seriously, all you have to do is delete two words, “male” and “female” – it's not an adjustment he'll be making.
Why Stanart thinks readying the marriage license application for same-sex couples is a task so daunting the AG needs to do it for him is anyone's guess (but we're guessing that whole "destroying an institution" thing might have something to do with it). As you can see from the application we've posted below, it would be a mind-numbingly simple "fix."
In fact it should be so simple that we've designed our own submission for the new forms, complete with a little extra sparkle. We too believe in love, so Stanart and state officials should feel free to use our version of the application if it will get same-sex marriages licensed and happening a little sooner in Harris County.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.