An offer by two Texas judges to officiate same-sex "commitment" ceremonies at an Austin courthouse on Valentine's Day has sparked the anger of GOP politicians who noted the Lone Star State doesn't recognize gay marriage.
The offer by County Court-at-Law Judge John Lipscombe and his wife, visiting Judge Jan Breland, a retired county court-at-law judge, was part of a 25-year tradition to hold free courthouse weddings on Valentine's Day, the Austin American-Statesman reported Saturday. The pair issued a statement Thursday saying the event would include "free commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples.
No couples apparently took the judges up on the offer, but it still angered several Republican politicians, who said the state has a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.
Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples sponsored that constitutional amendment passed in 2005 and said, "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," said Staples, who is running for lieutenant governor.
Lipscombe and Breland performed the wedding ceremonies in a fifth-floor courtroom that was decorated with red hearts, flowers, stuffed animals and photos of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe. By late Friday afternoon, 37 couples had married, but none was gay, the newspaper said.
One same-sex couple showed up to accept the judges' offer but quickly left, saying they didn't like the media spotlight.
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, another Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said he doesn't believe Texas judges have the authority to officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies of any kind.
"Other than to get more votes in Travis County, I don't know why any judge in this state would be doing that. Marriage is between one man and one woman. Period," Patterson told the newspaper.
Travis County, home to Austin, has been registering domestic partnerships between same-sex couples since 1993.
"Bring `em on," Breland said when asked about the GOP criticism.