Dallas County issued 170 marriage licenses to same-sex couples Friday following a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on equality that allows same-sex couples in all states to get married.
The first same-sex couple to get a license and be married in Dallas County has been together for more than five decades.
Jack Evans, 85, and George Harris, 82, together for 54 years, received their license Friday and were married by a member of their church, Judge Dennise Garcia.
Garcia was on vacation Friday and had a clear docket. She tweeted that she'd spend as much time as needed at the courthouse to marry as many people as she could.
Texas' conservative leadership denounced the ruling Friday, saying the Supreme Court judges are an unelected nine-member legislature imposing their personal views on the country while vowing emphatically to keep fighting for "traditional values."
Following the decision by the nation's highest court, President Barack Obama took to Twitter and said the decision is "a big step in our march toward equality."
Meanwhile, gay couples across the state began lining up for marriage licenses within hours of the Supreme Court ruling they had the right to wed. Some counties, including Denton, denied the applications saying they needed guidance from their district attorney or the attorney general.
In Dallas County, where licenses were being granted, the county's 13 district judges and five family court judges said they would waive the usual 72-hour waiting period between receiving a marriage license and performing the ceremony to allow couples to be married Friday.
That was good news for Kristy Johnson and Ingrid Snelling, a lesbian couple who, after 22 years together, rushed to the county clerk's office after hearing the Supreme Court's ruling.
“I just broke down and bawled when I heard it. There will be more tears. She’s the love of my life. My sun and my moon and my best friend. We’ve traveled together for 22 years," said Johnson. “And to now be able to take that step and make it official, legally. No more being turned away from hospitals and feeling humiliated when I needed to care for her — which has happened to me. This means a whole lot.”
Dallas County officials said they reserved extra space within the courthouse to accommodate the expected large crowds. Courthouse hours were also be extended, officials said.
“I’m just so thrilled. We’ve been together eight years; I’ve been waiting for this moment for the last six. And today I am so proud to be an American. Proud to be here in Texas. So, so happy," said Brad Sanders. “We’re Texans. We were born here. We met here. We live here. It was important that we got married here."
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings echoed a similar sentiment Friday morning.
"Today’s historic Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing marriage equality is long overdue and wonderful news for Dallas, our state and our country. I am proud to lead a city that is home to numerous large businesses that have already embraced policies in support of gay and lesbian families. This court ruling will help our city and cities across America continue to grow and prosper," said Rawlings. "On a personal level, I am especially thrilled for my many close friends in the LGBT community. I expect that my family and I will celebrate with them at some very special marriage ceremonies in the coming months and years."
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the county's first openly gay sheriff, stopped by the Dallas County Records Building on Friday morning to see the line of couples preparing to seek marriage licenses. Valdez, who was in uniform, shook hands with some of the couples waiting in line to get their marriage licenses, offering congratulations.
Valdez said she wanted to help celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage. She said the ruling means gay couples "are recognized as equal in every possible way." Valdez said she has been with her girlfriend for two years and they both cried Friday when they heard the news. She said they have discussed marriage but do not have plans right now to wed.
Tarrant County officials said Thursday that if there were a change in laws governing the issuance of a marriage license to same-sex couples, there would be no unnecessary delay in issuing such a license and began granting the licenses Friday morning.
Tarrant County judges were not granting waivers on the 72-hour mandatory wait, however, so couples there will have to wait to get married.
Denton County Clerk Juli Luke denied marriage applications to all three same-sex couples who tried to obtain one Friday morning.
Luke said she is not defying the high court's ruling, rather she is taking her time and making sure this is done right, adding she wants proper forms from the county's vendor that don't specify "bride" and "groom."
Also, Luke is seeking guidance from the district attorney but is adamant she's just assuring this is done properly and legally. Tod King and Casey Cavalier reported they were denied a marriage license in Denton County, as were Sara Nickell and Laura Hernandez.
Later Friday, two couples were married at an event at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas.
It was a preplanned event for the day of the ruling, but the two couples said they decided to get married there, too.
Clergy from different congregations were on stage for the service.
"This is something I never dreamed I would see in my lifetime. I just wished my dad was here," said Shannon Bailey, who married his partner of six years.
Zante Garcia and her partner picked up their marriage license Friday morning.
"To be able to stand with my partner, the person I share my life with and my love with, can now be legally be attached to me," Garcia said. "Love prevails, and to be able to do it in the state of Texas, that is even more amazing. Who would have ever thought."
In Travis County, the first marriage license in Austin was issued to Gena Dawson and Charlotte Rutherford, a couple of 22 years who planned to have a wedding Friday after finding a judge to waive the usual three-day waiting period.
At a press conference this morning in Austin, LGBT leaders like Neel Lane shared their views on this historical day's effects on the Lone Star State.
"The 5th circuit case is still pending but the Supreme Court has made clear how the 5th circuit must rule," said Lane. "The 5th circuit was an appeal from an order that is now in effect, and there are marriages going on across the state right now. They're waiving the waiting period in courthouses all across the state, I will add not every courthouse, but a lot of them: In Austin, in San Antonio, in Dallas and the law is that state officials cannot prevent people marrying someone of the same sex. Those restrictions on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The constitution protects the federal rights of all US citizens."
In Houston, where a lesbian mayor oversees the nation's fourth-largest city, marriage licenses were being prepared after the Harris County clerk reversed himself and said he would no longer wait on state approval.
None of the same-sex couples now receiving licenses will be technically the first to marry in Texas. Earlier this year, a state judge ordered Travis County to issue a marriage license to a lesbian couple, who then wed before Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton had a chance to intervene.
Religious Leaders Unsupportive of Supreme Court Ruling, Reaffirm Love for All
The ruling, as expected, caused outrage among more conservative members of the local clergy, many of whom posted on Twitter or issued official statements,
Bishop Kevin Farrell, the head of the Catholic Diocese in Dallas, posted a short tweet simply asking for prayers.
In a more formal statement issued later in the day, Farrell said, "The same Constitution that has now been held to open civil marriage to same-sex couples confirms and protects the Church’s right to carry forward the historic teaching of the Church regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. As Catholics we believe in the dignity of each and every human being made in the image and likeness of God. As such, we accept all persons with respect, compassion, and sensitivity and must be mindful that, even in polarizing times, there is no place for derision or smugness. I pray that all persons who hold dear the civil liberties afforded by the United States Constitution will join us in working to safeguard the rights of people of faith to live and exercise that faith as they believe God requires."
Bishop Michael Olson, the head of the Catholic Diocese in Fort Worth, didn't post a message of his own but retweeted a message from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calling the decision a "tragic error."
Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas, was more defiant and tweeted the decision was a landmark mistake that will result in spiritual consequences for years to come.
Pastor Jack Graham, who leads the congregation at Prestonwood Baptist Church, tweeted and issued a video statement where he said he was disappointed the Supreme Court chose to redefine marriage under the laws of man and that his church would not recognize same-sex marriages, host same-sex ceremonies or perform such ceremonies
“While we affirm our love for all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction, we cannot and will not affirm the moral acceptability of homosexual behavior or any behavior that deviates from God’s design for marriage,” Graham said.
On social media, other prominent Texas religious leaders, including T.D. Jakes (Potter's House), Joel Osteen (Lakewood Church) Robert Morris (Gateway Church) and Ed Young (Fellowship Church), either tweeted about other things or were silent in the hours following the ruling.
Elected Conservative Leadership Vows to Keep Fighting for Traditional Values
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for the presidency in 2016, issued the following statement sharing his disappointment in the ruling — and highlighted what he'd do to maintain traditional values if elected president.
"I am disappointed the Supreme Court today chose to change the centuries old definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. I'm a firm believer in traditional marriage, and I also believe the 10th Amendment leaves it to each state to decide this issue. I fundamentally disagree with the court rewriting the law and assaulting the 10th Amendment. Our founding fathers did not intend for the judicial branch to legislate from the bench, and as president, I would appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written."
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Paxton and Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick, all Republicans emphatically opposed to same-sex marriage, also issued statements Friday following the Supreme Court's decision.
Abbott said the court acted as "an unelected nine-member legislature" and that five justices who ruled in favor of gay marriage "have imposed on the entire county their personal views." He said he vows to keep defending traditional values, saying he's preparing a directive to state agencies "instructing them to prioritize the protection of Texans' religious liberties."
After the ruling the governor was quick to take to Twitter, sporting the hashtag #tcot -- "Top Conservatives on Twitter."
The governor also issued a directive saying no state employee could be punished for refusing to violate their religious beliefs — which he said could include denying benefits to a same-sex couple.
Travis County Attorney David Escamilla disagreed and said his clerks could not refuse a marriage license to a gay couple over religious objections.
A day ahead of the landmark decision, Paxton urged all county officials stand pat and not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples until receiving guidance from his office should the Supreme Court decision alter the law of the land.
Hours after the Supreme Court's decision, Paxton failed to issue any guidance to county officials but he was quick to put together a statement saying the "impact of this opinion on our society and the familial fabric will be profound. Far from a victory for anyone, this is instead a dilution of marriage as a societal institution."
In counties where marriage licenses were being issued, county officials said Paxton lacked the power to stop them.
In anticipation of the Supreme Court's ruing, Texas legislators passed the "Pastor Protection Bill" this spring that protects churches, clergy and ministers from being required to participate in a marriage that violates a religious belief.
On Friday, Patrick asked Paxton for a legal opinion on whether Texas judges and the county clerks who issue marriage licenses could refuse to perform ceremonies or issue licenses based on their personal beliefs. As of this writing, Paxton has not issued a legal opinion on Patrick's questions.
Texas passed a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2005 but it was not part of the case before the Supreme Court. A federal judge ruled in 2013 that the Texas' ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional but declined to enforce the ruling while it was on appeal.
Before Friday's ruling, same-sex couples had the right to marry in 36 states and the District of Columbia. Friday's ruling means the remaining 14 states in the South and Midwest will have to stop enforcing their ban on same-sex marriage.
NBC 5's Jeff Smith, Ken Kalthoff, Ellen Bryan, Julie Fine, Brian Scott, Todd L. Davis, Frank Heinz and The Associated Press contributed to this report