As a teenager, being different from the crowd can be challenging, whether it’s because of ethnicity, sexuality, religion or family background. So one might think 18-year-old Dawn Goodfriend, who was adopted from China when she was an infant and then raised here in Austin practicing the Jewish faith under two same-sex parents – might have a ginormous chip on her shoulder. Not so. Dawn and her 14-year-old sister Ting, live a very “normal” life under the parentage of Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant: the only legally married gay couple in Texas.
It sounds like the title of a modern musical. However, the process for Bryant and Goodfriend – who have been together for 30 years – hasn‘t necessarily been full of song and dance routines.
They first tried to get married eight years ago but were politely turned down by the Travis County clerk. “Then about a year ago we thought there might be another window of opportunity when a similar federal court case was heard in San Antonio,” says Bryant.
“We had our rabbi at the ready, hoping the case in San Antonio would open a door but it didn’t. The judge ruled the Texas ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional under the U.S. Constitution, but he then stayed his opinion until a decision could be made by the appellate court.”
Earlier this year another chance arose because of a homosexual marriage and then the subsequent death of one of the spouses. The probate judge ruled that the marriage would be valid between a man and a woman. “This gave us a chance to approach another judge, asking him to also find the Texas ban unconstitutional.”
According to the Texas Tribune, “at a judge’s direction, the Travis County clerk issued a marriage license to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant… the order by state District Judge David Wahlberg of Travis County directed Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to issue the license and to “cease and desist relying on the unconstitutional Texas prohibitions against same-sex marriage.” The license was issued under special circumstances because one of the women has “severe and immediate health concerns,” a county spokeswoman said in a statement
“We asked the judge to immediately permit a clerk to issue a marriage license for us, because my partner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I didn’t want to wait and end up like other couples, fighting this issue in a probate court,” says Bryant.
We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall
Despite being together for 30 years and successfully raising two children, like many gay couples Goodfriend and Bryant wanted that official piece of paper to legitimise their relationship, protect their family and be entitled to the same basic rights as any other citizen of the United States. “Our rabbi presided over the ceremony and it was a wonderful celebration,” says Bryant.
But the question is, why didn’t they simply travel to California or New York or even Oklahoma to tie the knot? “We’re proud Texans,” says Bryant. “We were born here, we’ll probably die here and, we wanted to get married here. End of story.”
Still there are plenty of people out there opposed to their marriage who are doing whatever they can to prevent other gay couples in Texas from doing the same. So the story doesn’t end here.
“Texas is very slow to make progressive change,” says Bryant. “And like other southern states, we sometimes need the federal government to move us along into the future.
“The U.S. Supreme Court is currently dealing with this issue on two fronts – do states like Texas have to recognise a marriage from somewhere where gay marriage is legal and secondly, do those states have to issue marriage licenses. My belief is that Texas will join the majority of other states, issuing marriage licenses and recognising them but we can’t know for sure what will happen.
“What would really disappoint me is if they decided to recognise marriages from other states here but didn’t agree to issue Texas marriage licenses. This would cause real economic segregation. In other words, people who could afford to go to California and get married would have their relationships officially recognised, whereas those who can’t afford to leave Texas wouldn’t.”
Many in opposition to marriage equality argue that it will herald the end of happy, secure family life. So is life in the Goodfriend household all screwed up? Are their kids maniacs? “As far as I can tell, we are like any other family – we have one daughter on the way to high school, and one on the way to college who wants to study medicine,” says Bryant.
Sarah and Suzanne met on the east coast in the 1980s when they both lived in Washington, D.C. They moved back to Texas in 1992 to take care of elderly parents. “We’ve pretty much been out of the closet to our parents since we met,” says Bryant.
“I grew up in Lubbock, while Sarah grew up in Austin. I was married in Lubbock for over a decade to a very dear man who has remained my friend.”
The couple adopted their two kids each as single parents, then did what’s known as a ‘second parent’ adoption. “Our kids are very proud of us but they’re also not that conscious of any differences between our family and anyone else’s,” says Bryant. “On the day we were getting married we naturally wanted our kids to be there at the county clerk’s office with us. So we took them out of school. However, our 14-year-old, Ting, was reluctant to come. “Mom,” she said, “I can’t miss history class. It’s too hard to make up.” I laughed and said, “if you come with us, you’ll be making history.”