Barry Chasnoff has received lots of calls since four plaintiffs he represents filed a federal complaint on Oct. 28, seeking a declaratory judgment that the article in the Texas Constitution and related statutes barring same-sex marriage violate the plaintiffs’ constitutional due process and equal protection rights.
Chasnoff’s clients, two same-sex couples, seek a permanent injunction barring enforcement of those state laws, plus attorney fees.
“There are a lot of couples out there committed to each other,” says Chasnoff, a partner in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in San Antonio and the firm’s general counsel.
Chasnoff, who is handling the representation pro bono, says all couples seeking marriage in Texas will benefit if the complaint is successful.
“We’re hoping it will move quickly,” he says.
Two of the plaintiffs—Nicole Dimetman and Mark Phariss—are lawyers who practice in Texas. Dimetman used to work for Akin Gump and now is an Austin solo, while Phariss is in-house counsel at Export Global Solutions Inc. in Plano. Neither returned a call seeking comment.
The Texas Office of Attorney General is named as a defendant, as are Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Gov. Rick Perry and the commissioner of Texas Department of State Health Services, all in their official capacities. The OAG represents Abbott, Perry and the commissioner.
OAG spokeswoman Lauren Bean sent an email message with this statement: “The Attorney General’s Office will defend the Texas Constitution in this case just like we do in all cases where state laws are challenged in court. The U.S. Supreme Court was clear that states have independent authority to establish their marriage laws. Texans adopted a constitutional amendment defining marriage. We will defend that amendment.”
Gerard C. “Gerry” Rickhoff, Bexar County clerk, was also named as a defendant in his official capacity. The plaintiffs sought marriage licenses in Bexar County and were refused.
“I just finished reading it,” Rickhoff says about the complaint.
“I have strong feelings about these issues. I have my own personal feelings about what is right and fair. As I read through the lawsuit, it brings up an uncomfortable truth of what a reasonable person would expect as equal rights under the law.”
He continues, “One of the inconsistencies we have is: Now, someone gets on an airplane to come from the East Coast to Texas, and what happens is they lose recognition of their marriage and their rights related to insurance, employee benefits and taxes. There are prejudicial behaviors that separate Texas from the other 14 states,” he says, referring to states where same-sex marriage is recognized.
But Rickhoff stresses, “As clerk of Bexar County, I’m restricted to do what the Legislature wants me to do.”