Posted on February 14, 2014 at 7:16 PM
Friday, Feb 14 at 7:21 PM
AUSTIN -- Travis County Judge John Lipscombe and his wife, retired Judge Jan Breland, perform free wedding ceremonies every Valentine's Day. After inviting same-sex couples to participate in separate, unofficial commitment ceremonies this year, the judges received heavy criticism from one of the Republican contenders running for lieutenant governor.
In 2005, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples sponsored an amendment to the Texas Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman. The amendment was approved by voters, and Staples has touted the amendment in the race to win over conservative voters in the Republican primary.
"Somebody from his office called my house yesterday afternoon," Breland told KVUE on Friday. "I told him that when we do commitment ceremonies, it's just two people who love each other making a commitment to each other that really has no legal effect at all, unfortunately."
Staples released the following statement Thursday evening denouncing the events planned for Friday morning:
"As the sponsor of the constitutional amendment defining marriage in Texas as between one man [and] one woman, I believe it’s wrong for a sitting judge to hold a ceremony mocking our state constitution. It is the responsibility of our judges to uphold the rule of law and every Texan should be upset with this clear attempt to use their trusted position as a seat for activism. This issue has been decided by 76 percent of Texas voters who stood with me in protecting traditional family values."
"As a sitting judge, I can't comment on the law itself," said Lipscombe. "But I will say that federal courts recently have held those laws in other states to be unconstitutional, I think, partially under the 14th Amendment. So, before they have such a blistering attack, I would invite them to go back and read their Constitution again."
While no same-sex couples showed up for the mass ceremony in Austin Friday afternoon, many participated in similar ceremonies in San Antonio. A federal court there heard arguments over Texas' ban on same-sex marriage earlier this week. After being refused a marriage license by Bexar County officials last October, Vic Holmes and his partner Mark Phariss are one of two same-sex couples suing the state over the amendment Staples helped pass.
"Traditional marriage is about love. [It's] about two people who love each other," Holmes told KENS, KVUE's sister station in San Antonio. "And gender really doesn't make that much of a difference, because it's the love that makes the difference."
"The state used to think it had a right to segregate its schools," attorney Barry Chasnoff said after Wednesday's hearing. "The state does not have a right to unconstitutionally limit same-sex couples from marrying the people they love."
On Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bill aimed to force the federal government to recognize states' definition of marriage. Though unlikely to go anywhere within the Democrat-controlled Senate, the "State Marriage Defense Act" would "ensure the federal government gives the same deference to the 33 states that define marriage as the union between one man and one woman as it does to the 17 states that have chosen to recognize same-sex unions."
"I support traditional marriage. Under President Obama, the federal government has tried to re-define marriage and to undermine the constitutional authority of each state to define marriage consistent with the values of its citizens," Cruz said in a statement Thursday. "The Obama Administration should not be trying to force gay marriage on all 50 states. We should respect the states, and the definition of marriage should be left to democratically elected legislatures, not dictated from Washington. This bill will safeguard the ability of states to preserve traditional marriage for its residents."
Jonathan Saenz with the socially conservative advocacy organization Texas Values said Cruz's bill addresses concerns among conservative states that federal courts and the U.S. Department of Justice seem increasingly unsupportive of bans on same-sex marriage.
"You see, the federal government trying to force their definition, or redefinition of marriage, if you will, onto states like Texas, who have legally adopted a definition of marriage, that's always been there," Saenz said.
Supporters of extending the benefits and responsibilities of legal unions to same-sex couples are gaining confidence. On Thursday, a federal court overturned Virginia's ban on same-sex marriages. Like the pending ruling in Texas, the decision in Virginia is expected to be appealed and is most likely destined for a final showdown before the U.S. Supreme Court. As for overturning Texas' ban, Breland said she believes change may be closer than ever.
"A year ago, I would have said, 'No way,'" Breland told KVUE. "But I think it's possible. I just wish the federal judge would rule today in a positive way. It would be a Valentine's Day to remember. I think that people who are in love ought to be together, and if you want to commit to that for life, you should be able to do that."