Out lesbian Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker touted her refusal to conduct marriage ceremonies in her courtroom on Tuesday night.
“I have the power, of course, to perform marriage ceremonies,” Parker said. “I don’t.”
The mention of her decision to not perform marriage ceremonies came while the 116th Civil District Court judge addressed the audience at the monthly meeting of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, of which Parker is a member. While Parker highlighted her progress in her first year as judge in what had been “the worst district court at the courthouse” with more old pending cases than the other 12 district courts, she also spoke about the importance of having an LGBT person on the bench.
Parker is the first LGBT person elected judge in Dallas County and is believed to be the first openly LGBT African-American elected official in the state’s history. As such, Parker said she takes into account the importance of her position to make members of the LGBT community feel comfortable and equal in her courtroom by “going out of my way to do things that other people might not do because they are not who I am.”
Using the example of turning young couples away who want the court to marry them quickly because they are often pregnant and desperate, Parker said she refers them to other judges because of the state’s marriage inequality, informing them that that is why she will not marry them.
“I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away,” Parker said. “So I usually will offer them something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people.’ And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it.”
Parker also said she refused to allow a prosecutor to use the terms “child molester” and “homosexual” interchangeably in her courtroom, saying that just because the man on trial was accused of assaulting boys, the term “heterosexual” wouldn’t be used in place of “child molester” in cases where a man is accused of assaulting a girl.
And Parker said she includes the term partner when jurors are informed of the Texas Supreme Court directions that instruct jurors not to discuss cases with their husband or wife.
“What I want to do is help those folks to have dignity in that moment that they are with me to know that I see you,” she said. “I see you and in that I have reflected to them that I have respect for them.”
When asked about declining to perform marriage ceremonies in a follow-up phone interview on Wednesday, Parker said the decision was simply about equality and having to turn certain people away.
“I do not perform them because it is not an equal application of the law. Period,” she said.