Freedom to Marry Town Hall features couples challenging Texas marriage equality ban
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
In less than a month, a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court will hear arguments in three marriage equality cases, including one from Texas — DeLeon v. Perry. And the plaintiffs in the Texas case said Monday night, Dec. 15, that they are optimistic the 5th Circuit will rule in their favor.
The 5th Circuit, considered one of the most conservative of the 13 U.S. circuit courts, is set to hear arguments in the three cases on Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
“Maybe it will be 2-1, but I think they will rule in our favor,” said Mark Phariss of Plano, who with his partner, Victor Holmes, and Austin lesbian couple Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman challenged Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. The two couples were part of the Freedom to Marry Town Hall held Monday night in Austin.
Evan Wolfson, president of the national Freedom to Marry organization, also participated in the town hall forum, along with Mark McKinnon, a former advisor to President George W. Bush.
The forum also celebrated the launch of Texas for Marriage (TexasForMarriage.com), a new organization dedicated to changing people’s minds in Texas on the subject of marriage equality.
“It’s really inspiring when you meet these families,” said Texas for Marriage Campaign Manager Ward Curtin, adding that his organization’s goal is to share the “stories of the hundreds of thousands” of same-sex families in Texas.
“A panel of three judges will essentially decide on our rights,” Phariss said. “Our rights shouldn’t be up for a vote. Our rights shouldn’t be up to a judge to decide.” But, he added, he and Holmes are hopeful the 5th Circuit judges will make the right decision.
But if the 5th Circuit rules in favor of discrimination, Phariss said he and Holmes are “absolutely determined that we’re in this for the long haul,” and that they would appeal an adverse ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.
DeLeon said she and Dimetman are also optimistic, and that they too are willing to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Wolfson said at least 60 federal and state court rulings on marriage equality have been issued in the last two years, “virtually all of those courts” have ruled in favor of marriage equality. Today, he said, 35 states have marriage equality, “up from zero just a little more than a decade ago.”
Wolfson, an attorney, worked with Lambda Legal Defense and Education Network from 1988 until April 2001 when he left to form Freedom to Marry, and was involved in lawsuits challenging marriage discrimination in Hawaii and Vermont. He said Monday that while legal cases have changed laws, those cases could not have succeeded if same-sex couples had not done the groundwork by sharing their stories.
“Hearts have opened; minds have changed,” Wolfson said, because same-sex couples and families have come forward to tell their stories to their families, their friends, their neighbors and more. Because of those conversations, he said, “people understand now who gay people are and why marriage matters.”
The battle for marriage equality has reached a tipping point, but it isn’t won yet, Wolfson continued. “We’re not there yet,” he said, adding that “the way we will get there is by engaging our neighbors, our families, our coworkers.”
Same-sex couples have created an atmosphere where change can happen by sharing their stories, and now “the courts can finish the job, sooner rather than later.”
Dimetman said that she and DeLeon had their “flashbulb moment” when DeLeon was pregnant with their first child. There were problems with the pregnancy and realizing that Dimetman would have no legal connections to the child should something happen to DeLeon during the birth. Now that Dimetman is pregnant with their second child, the couple really want the protections a legal marriage would provide.
Phariss and Holmes said that they love each and simply want to legally protect their relationship. Phariss, saying that he fell in love with Holmes the first time he saw him, noted that Holmes served 23 years in the U.S. Air Force and had earned the right to marry the person he loves.
“The rest of us may not have earned it the same way Vic has, bit we all deserve that right,” he said.
Mason Marriott-Voss, a 16-year-old with two moms, was on hand, with his step-sister and brother, to tell the story of his family. Saying that his parents are “too busy helping us with finals to erode society,” he said that “anti-family” laws “create a raw deal for kids like me” who whose families are targeted by them.
“It’s not our families that need to change,” the teen said. “It’s Texas.”
The Republican Party has, traditionally, been opposed to LGBT rights in general and especially to marriage equality. But McKinnon, who was chief media advisor for George W. Bush in both his presidential campaigns, said that is changing, too.
In the most recently election, McKinnon said, Republican candidates shied away from the issue of same-sex marriage. “That dog didn’t bark,” he said. “It didn’t even whimper. The Republicans are not going to be out in the street tomorrow marching [in support of gay marriage]. But they are not using it as a wedge issue like that once did.”
There are still some candidates and officeholders who are out there “throwing elbows” to fight against marriage equality, including former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, McKinnon said. But most either support marriage equality or don’t want to discuss it at all.