In getting arrested at marriage sit-in, Major and Beau showed the LGBT community that we are not inferior, and it’s time to assert our equality
“We love each other,” Beau said, “and we want to get married.” Clerk’s assistant Melinda Saavedra got misty-eyed. There is no better proof that a law is unjust than a government worker’s tears while she does her duty. I saw that on July 5.
On that day, Mark “Major” Jimenez and Beau Chandler went to the Dallas County Clerk’s Office and waited their turn for the piece of paper that would give them access to 1,138 state and federal rights that the couple seated next to them could enjoy via the payment of a small fee, the booking of a courtroom or church, and the possible involvement of caterers. They only wanted to be recognized as two people who have given their lives to each other for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.
It was not to be. Texas law tied Saavedra’s hands from issuing their license, and these two loving, committed American citizens sat down, handcuffed themselves together, and refused to leave until they got what they came for. They were arrested for it. They were escorted from the Dallas County
Records Building by sheriff’s deputies, and taken to the county jail. They were booked. They were photographed. Fingerprinted. They were no longer even second-class citizens; they were common criminals.
Initial reports and conventional wisdom said they’d be charged with class-C misdemeanors, which Texas usually punishes with fines of up to $500.
Turning down a one-way street the wrong way — even by accident — or riding Dallas’ light rail system without first purchasing a ticket, for instance, are class-C misdemeanors.
But this turns out not to be their charge: Instead, something altogether different is going to happen to Major and Beau. Their crime is deserving of the maximum penalty, according to the powers-that-be in Texas — and they’ve been upgraded from class-C to class-B misdemeanors, which can (and often are) punished by up to six months in jail.
And in a surprisingly refined move of cruelty by the county authorities, they won’t even be charged together. On Aug. 2, they’ll appear in separate courtrooms, meaning they won’t be allowed to hold hands, speak to each other or console each other if the worst comes to pass. Their friends cannot come and support their joint stance against an evil, immoral and unjust law. They’ll have to face their fates at the hands of Dallas County exactly as the state of Texas sees them: two individuals with no connection to each other. At least, no connection that means a damned thing.
Major and Beau did not go into this ill-advised. They knew they would not be issued a license. They knew that refusing to leave would likely lead to their arrests. They knew that authorities could prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. But they also knew something more important, a lesson many in our community still need to internalize: They knew they were equal. They knew that equality is not something that can be bought and sold in our courts or legislatures; it is something guaranteed to them by their very birth as American citizens. When they walked into the Dallas County Clerk’s Office, they were not there to take a stand for equality, they were they taking a stand to assert equality.
It was Eleanor Roosevelt who famously said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This community has consented for far too long. The real lesson I hope the LGBT community is learning from the actions of these two brave men is that we are not inferior. We are equal in every way to our heterosexual brothers and sisters, and as such we must no longer accept inequity in the laws of our country or our state.
A people who know they are equal have a moral obligation to follow Major and Beau’s example. We must no longer take “no” for an answer, because there’s simply no reason for our public officials to say it. We must not be denied our rights to marriage, or employment, or housing, or safety; our founding documents declare us equal — man and woman, black, white, brown, immigrant and native-born.
We must not endure another minute, another hour, as second-class citizens, because there is no second-class status in the U.S. To assert that there is such entities as citizens without the right to be whoever they are and marry whomever they love is to say, “You are less than me.” That is the essence of the un-American.
We must recognize publicly Major and Beau’s right to marry in the U.S. this very day, or at least in time for the wedding they‘ve planned for Sept. 13. Their love deserves no less.
Daniel Cates is North Texas regional coordinator for GetEQUAL. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 13, 2012.