Metro Weekly

Texas must pay $600,000 to couples who challenged gay marriage ban

Costs will come out of state coffers because the Texas Attorney General's Office defended the ban

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton – Photo: Office of the Texas Attorney General.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the state of Texas must pay $600,000 in attorneys fees and other costs to two Texas couples who challenged the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals awarded attorneys for Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, and Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman, $585,470.30 in fees and $20,202.90 in other costs. The two couples sued, arguing that Texas’ constitutional and statutory bans prohibiting same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

The Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton defended the bans, making them responsible for covering the plaintiffs’ court fees after the couples obtained a favorable ruling in federal district court. That decision was appealed to the 5th Circuit in New Orleans, which failed to issue a decision prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. As a result, the Supreme Court’s finding that same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional cemented the district court’s ruling in place.

Pharris, who married Holmes in Frisco, Texas, following the Supreme Court’s decision, said he and his husband were “thrilled” at the 5th Circuit’s ruling, which now allows their attorneys to be compensated for their hard work. The funds will come out of Texas state coffers.

“It’s kind of a little bit sad that it was a waste of taxpayer dollars that could have gone to other things than to keep two people who love each other from getting married,” Phariss said.

DeLeon and Dimetman had already legally married in Massachusetts when they sued, but wanted Texas to recognize their marriage before they had their second child. Their daughter was born during the time that the couple was waiting for a decision by the 5th Circuit, which was made moot by the Supreme Court ruling.

The law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, which represented the couples, has pledged to use the funds to help provide pro bono work.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com