Mark Jiminez and Beau Chandler just wanted a marriage license in time for their wedding. Instead they got arrested and helped launch a movement, but on Sept. 13 they plan to tie the knot anyway — and everyone’s invited
To many, Mark “Major” Jiminez and Beau Chandler are two local leathermen whose activism has brought them international attention. But away from the media spotlight, Jiminez and Chandler are just two men who want to legally marry.
The two were arrested at the end of a marriage protest on July 5 at the Dallas County Records Building. After being denied a marriage license because Texas does not issue them to same-sex couples, they handcuffed themselves together and waited until the building closed. They were arrested for trespassing because they refused to leave.
It marked the first LGBT activism arrest in Dallas’ history. Chandler said they didn’t plan to get arrested but became angry when they weren’t served like the other handful of couples that walked right past them. He said building management offered to have police take them out a separate exit if they agreed to leave without being arrested. They refused.
“It didn’t work out for them because we flat out told them, ‘No, we’re here to make this statement, and we are seriously not leaving unless you take us away in cuffs because we have not yet been served,’” Chandler said.
The couple wanted a marriage license in time for their wedding, set for Thursday, Sept. 13. They will still walk down the aisle next week at a friend’s house near Bachman Lake and exchange their own vows.
The intimate ceremony will be followed by a reception at the Dallas Eagle. Instead of wedding presents, the couple has asked guests to tip the entertainers at the reception. Proceeds will go to Youth First Texas and 89.3 KNON’s Lambda Weekly and the Sonic Assembly Hour programs.
“We like giving back to the community, and as far as wedding gifts, we already have the toaster oven and the microwave and all that good stuff,” Chandler said.
“We just combined two households. So, it’s better that everybody have a good time and we give something back to the people that love us and that we love.”
Jiminez and Chandler said they met a year ago at a fundraiser. They became friends but weren’t in a good place in their lives to start dating. Fate brought them together earlier this year at another fundraiser and the whirlwind romance began.
“We were getting our lives in order, and I guess it was the perfect storm earlier this year because our lives were in order and we got thrown together again, so here we are,” Jiminez said.
One morning in early May, Jiminez made Chandler a surprise breakfast of blueberry pancakes with a ring inside.
“When he got down to the ring part, I got down on my knee, I offered it to him and I asked if he would like to get married,” Jiminez said. “And he said he would.”
Chandler said the proposal caught him by surprise, but he was thrilled.
“It was a pretty sweet deal,” he said. “I thought it was just a big special breakfast, but it was way bigger than what I thought it was going to be.”
A few days later, President Barack Obama endorsed marriage equality, inspiring the couple to plan the staged sit-in.
“That’s when we decided that we would just make a personal public statement locally and go downtown and apply for a marriage license and refuse to leave without one,” Jiminez said. “We really didn’t expect it to get as crazy and widespread as it did.”
Jiminez, an activist since the late ’70s, said he’s been in protests around the country. Chandler, who is new to activism, said he always wanted to get involved in the fight for LGBT equality but didn’t have anyone with whom to be active. But now the two have each other.
They approached GetEQUAL with their marriage sit-in idea, and the organization decided to partner with them, GetEQUAL Texas state co-coordinator Michael Diviesti said.
Jiminez and Chandler’s protest was designed to coincide with the anniversary of the adoption of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law. Diviesti said tying the protest to GetEQUAL’s national “Fight for the 14th” campaign helped bring international attention to their arrests, and sit-ins at marriage counters across the country followed. While Dallas is liberal, many people outside the state view it as conservative, so the idea that Dallas had a gay couple demanding a marriage license instead of a place like Austin — where such protests are expected — added fuel to the media fire.
“They started a movement. They showed people that any two people can stand up and do this,” he said, adding that eventually marriage licenses will be issued in Texas. “At some point, someone is going to break down and they will hopefully either break the law themselves or the law will change.”
Jiminez was arrested again Aug. 2 during another marriage sit-in after the couple’s first court date. He said the manner in which a security guard told him to leave prompted him to refuse to let someone show such animosity toward him and Chandler.
Jiminez’s bond was tripled and the court wouldn’t allow him to give money to Chandler to secure his release, so he relied on a bondsman. He said the higher bond was a message from the court.
“I think it was the court letting me know that they weren’t going to continue to allow me to do this without repercussions,” he said. “Do I want to run up there and have any more protests right at the moment at the marriage license counter? Not really, not knowing what they could possibly do to me. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop voicing our opinions.”
Jiminez had his first court date for the second arrest Aug. 31. Chandler’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 26, but he said it could take up to 10 months before the cases go to trial.
Some have criticized the couple for not bringing their fight to the Legislature in Austin and for being arrested to make a statement.
Jiminez said he’s protested in Austin before, but this fight is at the marriage counter.
“Austin doesn’t issue marriage licenses,” he said. “The marriage license counter issues marriage licenses. So that’s exactly the place to protest.”
Chandler said people can be just as loud in their hometowns and make as much of a difference. He said he welcomes the advice from other people, but doesn’t appreciate the criticism from people who sit back and do nothing for equality.
“We’re not doing this just for us,” he said. “We’re trying to do this for everybody. You can be critical or you can stand behind us.”
Longtime Dallas lesbian activist Louise Young said she’s been following Jiminez and Chandler’s story.
She said a variety of approaches in activism help start and advance movements, though she has personally found that a combination of nonviolent demonstration and behind-the-scenes work has been the most effective.
“I would be remiss as an activist to criticize their way of responding,” Young said, adding that time will tell if their arrests prove to be effective. “It’s not for me to say which is right and which is wrong.”
Others have called Jiminez and Chandler brave for taking such extreme action. The couple has compared their actions to the sit-ins of the African-American civil rights movement, while adding that unlike those protesters they had supporters and even a police LGBT liaison present.
“[Civil rights protesters] sat there and made their stand in a very brave sort of way and we both draw a lot of our energy from that time when those kids said,
‘We’ve had enough of this,’” Jiminez said. “That’s how we feel. We’ve had enough of it, too, and we’re going to continue to fight them.”
Tiffani Bishop, her fiancée Iana Di Bona and a friend were arrested on Valentine’s Day this year for protesting at the Travis County Clerk’s Office. She said she’d applied for a marriage license on past GetEQUAL protests, but had finally had enough.
Bishop said Jiminez and Chandler’s arrests impacted her more than she expected. Part of it was that the two weren’t from any organization or nonprofit, but doing it on their own to stand against injustice.
“It was about these two men who loved each other that said enough,” Bishop said. “That’s what I think really resonated with people so much.”
Bishop’s case is still pending as charges have neither been filed nor dropped. She said the handling of the cases is abnormal compared to similar activism arrests.
When activists are arrested, they are normally tried together, but she and Di Bona, as well as Jiminez and Chandler, are being prosecuted separately.
Jiminez and Chandler don’t plan on anymore arrests in the near future. They hope the Supreme Court will make a decision within the next two years after hearing some of the Defense of Marriage Act cases slated to be heard. If it doesn’t go well, Jiminez is prepared for another protest.
“If they don’t look at this [the DOMA cases], I’m going to be making a trip to the Supreme Court and I might just have to chain myself or handcuff myself some place there, too,” he said. “I’m quite serious. Them not addressing this is beyond my comprehension of what justice is all about.”
But for now, the couple is enjoying making the final arrangements for their wedding from flowers and decorations to the final wording of their vows, both knowing that the real fight — and their trials — will come after they say “I do.”
“Our fight won’t end with marriage equality. This fight for equal rights and protection under the laws and an end to discrimination and people hurting us, it’s an ongoing fight,” Jiminez said. “It’s not going to go away, but at least [when we have marriage equality] we’ll be validated and can start with our marriages, our adoptions and setting up our households.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 7, 2012.