What started four years ago as a single event intended to make a statement about same-sex marriage while at the same time raising money for a Houston-area GLBT immigration rights group has grown into more than a week’s worth of events centered on promoting GLBT people’s right to marriage equality, presented in Houston by Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality
“Every year, it just keeps getting bigger and better,” said Jerry Simoneaux, who founded the organization with his partner Christopher Bown. “This year will be the biggest and best yet.”
Simoneaux said he and Brown came up with the idea of holding a mass same-sex wedding ceremony in December of 2002 to celebrate Freedom to Marry Day the following February and to raise funds for the immigration rights group.
To their surprise, more than 60 couples and more than 400 wedding guests, along with eight or nine clergy members from different faiths, showed up at Houston’s Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.
The ceremony was interrupted when one of the ministers told those gathered that there had been a bomb threat made against the event. But few chose to leave, Simoneaux said, and one of the clergy members, retired Methodist minister the Rev. Don Sinclair, told the crowd, “If I have to die, I can think of no place I’d rather be than with you here tonight.”
Simoneaux recalled, “We knew when we looked out and saw just how many people were there that this was obviously a very important issue for a lot of people, and we knew we wanted to keep this going.”
And, he said, what started out as a symbolic act of protest quickly became so much more for many of those who participated that first year and in each year since.
“Yes, it is a demonstration, a protest. But when you get there and the ceremony starts, it becomes extraordinarily personal, even for those who don’t think it will be. It is a wedding ceremony, after all,” Simoneaux said.
The program has grown since its inception, with new events added each year. In 2004, Simoneaux and Bown worked with the Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, now Equality Texas, to organize a group of 16 couples who went to the Harris County Clerk’s Office to ask for marriage licenses. In 2005, more than 20 clergy members from various faiths participated in the mass wedding ceremony for about 50 couples.
The 2006 Freedom to Marry Week schedule includes eight days of events, starting Sunday with the Freedom to Marry Week kick-off party from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Modern B&B in Houston, and winding up Feb. 19 with the Family Day in the Park picnic from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Spotts Park.
Events are scheduled for each day in between, as well, Simoneaux said.
On Monday, Jeff Vanice, Ph.D., will speak on “Love Won! We’re Out! Mind, Body and Soul” in part one of a discussion series on “The Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” The lecture begins at 7 p.m. in the Rice University Humanities Building, room 117.
The foundation presents GLBT Night Out and Cupid Karaoke from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Valentine’s Day with the Houston GLBT Community Center at the Hollywood Caf?.
The discussion series continues on Wednesday with Simoneaux, who is a partner in the law firm of Nechman, Simoneaux and Frye and an adjunct professor of law at South Texas College of Law as well as president of the foundation, speaking on “The Law and Same-Sex Marriage.” The discussion, beginning at 7 p.m. at the Greater Houston GLBT Community Center, will focus on the anti-gay-marriage amendment approved last November by Texas voters and on current and emerging laws in the U.S. and around the world on same-sex marriage, including the issues concerning defining gender for the purpose of marriage among transgender and intersexed persons.
Author Tom Allen, and the Revs. Todd Williams and Matt Tittle present the third installation of the discussion series with a presentation on “Faith Traditions and Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” beginning at 7 p.m. at Community Gospel Church.
Couples will gather at the Harris County Clerk’s Office from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 17 for the Marriage Equality Demonstration, to ask the county clerk for marriage licenses.
At 7 p.m. that evening, the foundation presents a mixer at Jeffries, a new non-smoking club in Montrose.
Texas’ Largest Same-Sex Wedding Celebration and Demonstration for the Right to Marry will be held from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 18 at Community Gospel Church, followed by a reception.
The Family Day picnic winds up the week the following Sunday.
For complete details, see www.Family Equality.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition of February 10, 2006.