Texas is not generally known for its LGBT community making big political wins. They are known for oil, big business, rodeos, cowboys, ranches, big open spaces, conservatism, and a Republican majority. Therefore, it was a surprise to lesbians and gays across the nation – and especially in Texas – when a federal judge there reversed Texas’ constitutional amendment ban on same-sex marriage, stating that to disallow gays and lesbians to marry was “unconstitutional” and discredits their relationships.
In 2005, Texas approved the amendment ban, which with 76 percent of 17 percent statewide voter turnout, defined marriage as between one man and one woman and contained a prohibition that the state cannot create or recognize any legal status, which is either identical to or similar to marriage. The winning side included a campaign that referenced the Bible and a rally by Ku Klux Klan members. In precincts where many LGBT people live, voting turnout was about 35 percent. The 2005 constitutional ban came on the coattails of a 2003 Texas law that banned gay marriage.
Today was but a tentative win over the constitutional ban for same-sex couples in that U.S. District Judge Orland Garcia stayed the injunction pending any appeal, which is likely to happen pretty quickly. In other words, this big news does not mean that Texas gays and lesbians can get married right away. The presidentially-appointed federal judge acknowledged that the decision would be difficult for the majority of conservative voters and legislators in Texas when he said that this ruling was not made in defiance. However, he continued, that inequality at the state level cannot find refuge within the U.S. Constitution. He referred to the stigma with which same-sex couples live when their relationships are not acknowledged as equal, and they are treated differently from couples of the opposite-sex.
The two plaintiffs in the case were Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes, who have been together for 17 years, and Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra De Leon (all featured in image above). The latter couple has been together since 2001, married in Massachusetts eight years later, and in 2012 had a child – they are both legal parents. Both couples have endured difficulties in not being legally married. Holmes was a Major in the Air Force until he retired in 2010 and for 11 years, he and Phariss had a long-distance relationship. After the birth of De Leon and Dimetman’s child, they underwent considerable expense to ensure that both parents would be legitimate. They, as representatives for the LGBT community of Texas, have great hope for a win that will emotionally compensate for the big difficulties that they have faced, living in inequality.
The Texas Legislature was expectedly angry with the decision and vowed to appeal immediately. They are confident that the ruling will be overturned in favor of the ballot decisions of 2003 and 2005.
Since 2000, LGBT civil rights and those for same-sex couples have been fought across the U.S. in legislatures, in courts, and at the ballot box. This past June, the U.S. Supreme Court abolished a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), declaring that legally married gay and lesbian couples deserve the same federal rights as those of other married couples.
It is not known whether or when the Texas LGBT community will win this latest big battle, but certainly there is hope that they will overcome what stands in their way for full equality as citizens under the law. Legal win for, and the consequent acceptance of same-sex couples will allow them to breathe a sigh of relief, putting aside this concern and living their lives as ordinary citizens.
By Fern Remedi-Brown