WATCH: Houston puts Dallas to shame by staging Texas’ Big Gay Wedding for Valentine’s Day

While North Texas could only muster one same-sex wedding, 20 gay and lesbian couples participated in a mass ceremony on Sunday at Houston’s Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, in a Valentine’s weekend event called Texas’ Big Gay Wedding. View a slideshow from the ceremony by going here.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Gay and lesbian couples participate in Valentine’s Day mass wedding in San Antonio

Each year a mass wedding is held on the steps of the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio. But this year for the first time, the event included nearly two dozen same-sex couples, KENS-TV reports:

It was a first for the grassroots movement. They quietly filed in with almost 150 couples who had marriage licenses. All of them listened as Joe Sullivan, an ordained minister and Valentine’s Day officiator of many years, gave instruction as well as advice.

The ceremony had ended and the same-sex couples had exchanged rings, vows and kisses before Sullivan was made aware his crowd of newlyweds was different this time.

“They don’t have a license,” Sullivan said. “If they took vows, it really means nothing.”

But the same-sex couples said they walked away feeling just like they were married anyway.

The thought of gay and lesbian couples in the event did not seem to bother some of the participants.

“In this day and age — whatever it is — I know my religion and faith in God,” newlywed Mark Aguilar said.

The San Antonio action is one of dozens of demonstrations planned across the country calling for marriage equality on Valentine’s Day, according to GetEQUAL. We’ve posted a list of events in Texas after the jump. As far as we know, nothing is planned in North Texas, although a lesbian couple that had been turned away from a private wedding chapel because of their sexual orientation married in a public ceremony Friday at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. Publicist Kris Martin sent over the below photo of the couple, Tina Shaft and Tiffany Fenimore, posing for a NoH8 photo after the wedding, and the Dallas Observer has a nice write-up about the event. “They are a wonderful couple with a very supportive family,” Martin said in her e-mail. “I felt like mother of the brides.”


—  John Wright

Study shows same-sex couples in Texas are among most likely to be raising kids

Courtesy of Gary Gates/UCLA

Roughly one in four same-sex couples in North Texas are raising children, a rate that’s among the highest in the country.

Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranks 12th on the list of metropolitan areas in the U.S. where same-sex couples are most likely to be raising children, according to a recent study by Gary Gates, a demographer at UCLA who studies U.S. Census data.

According to Gates, 3,178 of the estimated 12,761 same-sex couples in North Texas are raising children, or 24.9 percent.

San Antonio is No. 1 on the list of 52 metropolitan areas nationwide with populations of more than 1 million, with 33.9 percent of same-sex couples in the Alamo City raising children, according to Gates. Houston is No. 7 at 27.2 percent, while Oklahoma City is No. 10 at 25.4 percent.

Last week, The New York Times reported on Gates’ study, noting that child-rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other region. Gay and lesbian couples in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas are more likely to be raising children than their counterparts on the West Coast, in New York and in New England. From the NYT:

Experts offer theories for the pattern. A large number of gay couples, possibly a majority, entered into their current relationship after first having children with partners in heterosexual relationships, Gates said. That seemed to be the case for many blacks and Latinos in Jacksonville, for whom church disapproval weighed heavily.

“People grew up in church, so a lot of us lived in shame,” said Darlene Maffett, 43, a Jacksonville resident, who had two children in eight years of marriage before coming out in 2002. “What did we do? We wandered around lost. We married men, and then couldn’t understand why every night we had a headache.”

Moreover, gay men who have children do so an average of three years earlier than heterosexual men, according to census data, Gates said. At the same time, there are fewer white women of childbearing age nationally, according to demographers, while the number of minority women of childbearing age is expanding.

—  John Wright

Marriage amendment introduced in Iowa

The Iowa Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in a unanimous ruling in 2009. Now, state legislators are seeking to overturn that decision by putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would ban not only same-sex marriage, but also civil unions, domestic partnerships and any legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples. The Iowa Independent reports that 56 of the 60 Republicans in the Iowa House — where the GOP has a 60-40 majority — have signed on as co-sponsors. However, Democrats still have a majority in the Iowa Senate, and Majority Leader Mike Gronstal has vowed to block the amendment.

The statewide LGBT group One Iowa reports:

DES MOINES – An amendment that seeks to exclude gay couples from marriage was introduced in the Iowa Statehouse today. The bill (House Joint Resolution 6) seeks to amend the Iowa Constitution to exclude gay and lesbian couples from the freedom to marry. If passed through the legislature in two consecutive General Assemblies, the issue could be on the ballot as soon as 2013.

“Amending the Iowa Constitution to exclude gay couples will harm thousands of Iowa families,” said One Iowa Executive Director Carolyn Jenison. “Marriage says ‘we’re a family’ like nothing else and is an important way we care for those we love. Writing discrimination into the Constitution will only divide us at a time when we need to work together to tackle common concerns. Iowans expect their elected officials to focus on issues that matter to everyone, like creating jobs, providing educational opportunities, and improving healthcare. Going backward on equal rights sends the wrong message.”

HJR6 goes beyond marriage, and would ban civil unions, domestic partnerships, and any other legal recognition of same-sex couples.

“This bill intends to forever strip basic protections from loving and committed gay couples,” Jenison said.  “It goes against Iowa’s cherished tradition of protecting equal rights for all.  Now is the time for Iowans to come together and send a clear message to their legislators that discrimination has no place in Iowa’s Constitution. Our legislators should continue to uphold Iowa’s long-held value of equal rights for all.”

—  John Wright

Will civil unions delay gay marriage in Illinois?

As state Legislature sends bill to governor’s desk, some wonder whether new legal status will make it harder to achieve full equality

CHRISTOPHER WILLS and CARLA K. JOHNSON  |  Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Illinois — Gay rights advocates celebrated Wednesday, Dec. 1 as the state Legislature voted to legalize civil unions, although some wondered whether the measure that the governor is expected to sign will make it easier or harder to someday win approval of same-sex marriage.

The state Senate approved the legislation 32-24, sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn. It passed despite complaints from some senators that civil unions threaten the sanctity of marriage or increase the cost of doing business in Illinois.

After Quinn signs the measure, gay and lesbian couples will be able to get official recognition from the state and gain many of the rights that accompany marriage — the power to decide medical treatment for an ailing partner, for instance. Illinois law will continue to limit marriage to one man and woman, and the federal government won’t recognize the civil unions at all.

Five states already allow civil unions or their equivalent, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Five other states and Washington, D.C., let gay couples marry outright.

Some supporters of civil unions in Illinois hope they’ll be a step toward full marriage.

“The ultimate goal is not to be separate but equal,” said Jacob Meister, president of The Civil Rights Agenda, a gay rights organization. Meister said civil unions are a necessary compromise because they will provide important protections for gay couples.

But even advocates acknowledge it’s possible that by accepting civil unions now, they may be delaying movement toward being able to marry. The compromise could weaken any arguments that gay people are being treated unfairly by not being allowed to marry.

The sponsors of the civil unions bill said Wednesday they don’t plan to push for legalizing same-sex marriages, which have limited support in the Legislature.

“As soon as the governor signs it, it’s the law of the state of Illinois and that’s what we’re going to live with and going to make work,” said state Sen. David Koehler.

The executive director of a gay community center in Chicago said he welcomes civil unions but worries the legislation may stall ultimate approval of same-sex marriage. Modesto Valle of the Center on Halsted said it will take “tremendous work” to turn civil unions into “a platform to move toward marriage equality” in Illinois.

Courtney Reid, 48, of Chicago said she and her partner of 12 years have decided they won’t pursue a civil union, preferring to wait until same-sex marriage is recognized by federal law and homosexual couples get all the tax benefits and other rights available to heterosexual couples.

“It’s a stand on principle for us,” Reid said.

Supporters presented the civil unions legislation as a matter of basic fairness for all Illinois residents. With civil unions, state law will treat gay and lesbian couples as if they were married. They would inherit property when a partner dies, for instance.

“It’s time for us to look history in the eye and not flinch,” said Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg, D-Evanston.

Opponents argued it moves Illinois closer to legalizing same-sex marriages. They said civil unions are basically marriage by another name and that they could give the courts a reason to step in and order Illinois to allow full marriage to everyone.

Some senators also criticized the time being spent on civil unions at a time when the state faces a massive budget crisis.

“Here we are, forced to debate an issue that may be political payback to a small but very politically powerful special interest group,” said state Sen. Chris Lauzen. He called gay sexual activities dangerous and questioned whether the state has a role in regulating relationships that don’t produce children.

State Sen. Rickey Hendon accused some opponents of hypocrisy.

“I hear adulterers and womanizers and folks cheating on their wives and down-low brothers saying they’re going to vote against this bill. It turns my stomach,” he said. “We know what you do at night, and you know too.”

The Illinois Family Institute said legislators failed to examine the legislation clearly.

“Proponents engaged in embarrassing and maudlin displays of sentimentality intended to emotionally manipulate rather than intellectually persuade their colleagues,” said executive director David E. Smith.

Cardinal Francis George and other Catholic leaders fought civil unions vigorously. Conservative groups also lobbied to block the measure. They argued it could hurt religious institutions.

The measure wouldn’t require churches to recognize civil unions or perform any kind of ceremony, opponents acknowledge, but critics fear it would lead to other requirements, such as including same-sex couples in adoption programs run by religious groups or granting benefits to employees’ partners.

The law won’t take effect until June 1, assuming Quinn signs it. Having it take effect immediately would have required approval by three-fifths of legislators.

Some religious leaders welcomed the legislation. In Chicago, Rabbi Larry Edwards said he’s looking forward to planning celebrations for couples in his Jewish congregation who may decide to form civil unions under Illinois law.

“To those who say it’s a slippery slope and eventually will lead to marriage, I say, ‘I hope so,”’ said Edwards of Or Chadash synagogue. “I would like to be on a slippery slope that slides in the direction of justice.”

The Rev. Vernice Thorn, associate pastor of Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago said she considers the vote a hopeful sign. “Same-sex legalized marriage is going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.”

——————————————————————————————————————-

Illinois lawmakers have approved civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, and Gov. Pat Quinn says he’ll sign the measure into law. Civil unions would provide many of the benefits of marriage but not all of them. The chief difference is that the federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions, so federal programs treat gay partners as if they are completely unrelated.

Here are some examples of how different types of couples would generally be treated under the law, based on interviews with the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, a gay rights group.

Ability to visit partner in the hospital and make medical decisions

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Joint filing of federal taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Joint filing of state taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Varies

• Civil Unions: Not in Illinois (But Illinois’ flat-rate tax removes any advantage of joint filing.)

Right to sue over partner’s death

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Receive Social Security payments upon partner’s death

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Immigration rights for foreign partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Inherit partner’s property without paying federal estate taxes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Employer provides health insurance to worker’s partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Unclear

Right to live together in nursing homes

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Religious institution required to recognize relationship

• Heterosexual marriage: No

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil Unions: No

Right to officially dissolve relationship in court

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil Unions: Yes

Pension benefits for surviving partner

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Federal benefits for partner of military veteran

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil unions: No

State benefits for partner of military veteran

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Both partners automatically considered legal parents of children in the relationship

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: Yes

• Civil unions: Yes

Other states automatically recognize relationship as official

• Heterosexual marriage: Yes

• Same-sex marriage: No

• Civil unions: No

—  John Wright

Anti-gay TX GOP platform inspires 2 straight guys from Dallas to bike across the country for HRC

Chris Linville, left, and Justin Snider

Chris Linville and Justin Snider set out Friday morning on a training ride that will take them to Austin and back by Monday night, according to an e-mail we received from Carl L. Andrews of HRC’s DFW Federal Club this morning.

Linville and Snider, both straight Dallas residents, are training for Bike For Equality 2011, a 5,000 mile cross-country tour beginning in March to promote awareness of the fight for LGBT equality. The tour, part of HRC’s “Athletes for Equality” Program, aims to raise $100,000 for the organization.

According to the video below, Chris was raised by lesbian parents and was inspired to do the ride in part by the anti-gay Texas GOP platform.

“I recently read the Texas GOP’s platform and in that I read a lot of things that set me off,” he says. “They want to make it illegal for gay and lesbian couples to have children and have custody of children. Obviously that would have had a huge effect on me personally growing up. If that were the case my parents couldn’t have had custody of me. … When I read the Texas GOP platform it set me into a place where I felt this was what I needed to do, and if I could bring my message or bring attention and awareness to as many people as possible, that’s what I needed to do. In order to bring attention to it, you’ve got to do something that’s a little over the top. You have to really step out there and show that you believe in it, and that’s what I think we’re trying to do.”

To donate to the ride, go here.

—  John Wright

Gay Dallas couple legally weds in Texas, aims to bring ‘e-marriage’ to the same-sex masses

Mark Reed, left, and Dante Walkup

John Wright  |  Online Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Each year countless gay and lesbian couples travel from Texas to places where same-sex marriage is legal to tie the knot.

But Mark Reed hopes same-sex couples in Texas will soon be able to conveniently — and legally — marry without even leaving the state.

Reed, a board member for the national LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, recently married his longtime partner, Dante Walkup, at the W Dallas Victory hotel.

Their “Skype” wedding was officiated via teleconference from Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal, and they received their license in the mail a short time later.

It’s called “e-marriage,” and it’s a sort of high-tech version of the proxy wedding traditionally held when one of the parties can’t be physically present — because, for example, they’re in the military stationed overseas.

“The reason we wanted to do it this way is because we wanted to have a wedding here in Dallas with our family and friends,” Reed said. “It was very important that all of our family came. It was the first time they actually met, even though we’ve been together 10 years. If we had to go to D.C., there’s no way we could have had the people there who we wanted to be there.”

Reed and Walkup, co-owners of WDM Lighting on Oak Lawn Avenue, were married in a conference room at the W hotel on Oct. 10, in front of about 80 people with a 6-by-8-foot screen looming behind them.

The couple had rented a similar room at a W hotel in Washington, where marriage quality activist Sheila Alexander-Reid officiated the wedding.

“When we walked down the aisle, as soon as we reached the front, she comes on the screen like The Wizard of Oz,” Reed said. “It was beautiful. It wasn’t make-believe. It was like she was really there.”

Although Reed and Walkup were able to hold their ceremony in Dallas, they had to go to D.C. beforehand to register. And Reed said while D.C.’s marriage law has no provision against e-marriage, the validity of the procedure could theoretically be challenged in court.

That’s why the couple is now working with legal experts and legislators from states where same-sex marriage is legal to draft statutes that would solidify the practice. Reed and Walkup traveled this week to Michigan for a symposium on e-marriage.

While the couple has no intention of using their case to challenge Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage, Reed said they want to make it more convenient and less expensive for same-sex couples to legally wed.

Reed is also in the process of changing his surname in a Texas court, and he’s been fighting The Dallas Morning News — thus far unsuccessfully — to print their announcement in “Weddings” instead of in another section called “Commitments.”

“It’s like the more equal we can get through creative ways, we’re going to do it,” Reed said. “It’s just important to do anything we can to find creative ways around inequality.”

—  John Wright

First gay couples marry in Argentina

VICENTE PANETTA  |  Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — After a 27-year courtship, two men on Friday, July 30 became the first gay couple to wed under Argentina’s historic same-sex marriage law — the first of its kind for a Latin American nation.

Jose Luis Navarro, 54, and Miguel Angel Calefato, 65, tied the knot in provincial Santiago del Estero in an early morning ceremony where a civil registry official used a pen to cross out “man and woman” on the marriage license and wrote in “contracting parties.”

“Respect has prevailed over prejudice,” Navarro, an architect, told the newspaper El Liberal.

He said he met his new husband, now a retired office worker, while vacationing at a beach resort nearly three decades ago, and “there was chemistry from the first moment.”

Argentina became the first country in Latin America to permit gay marriage after President Cristina Fernandez signed the law July 21. The legislation was passed by both houses of Congress despite fierce opposition from the Roman Catholic Church.

The law declares that wedded gay and lesbian couples have all the same legal rights and responsibilities as heterosexual marriages, including the right to inheritance and to jointly adopt children.

Elsewhere in Latin America, gay marriage is also allowed in Mexico City, while same-sex civil unions granting some rights are legal in Uruguay and in some states in Mexico and Brazil. Colombia’s Constitutional Court has granted same-sex couples inheritance rights and allowed them to add their partners to health insurance plans.

Nine same-sex couples also married in Argentina before the law passed, having successfully petitioning judges for the right. But some of those weddings had been challenged in courts.

Navarro and Calefato’s wedding was the first of many expected in coming weeks. Hours later, agent Alejandro Vanelli and actor Ernesto Larrese said “I do” in the capital, Buenos Aires, after 34 years as partners.

“What comes now is more love, more freedom, and that can’t be anything but positive,” Larrese said.

At least three more same-sex marriages are scheduled for the weekend.

Mexico City tourism officials have offered a free honeymoon as a gift to the first couple to marry in Argentina, but Navarro said he and Calefato were reluctant to accept.

“It seems superficial to think of marrying just to win a prize,” Navarro said.

—  John Wright

7 gay couples sue Montana over equal protection

The ACLU of Montana may have found a way to force states like Texas that have outlawed same-sex marriage to provide rights to gay and lesbian couples.

Although a decision has not been reached in the Prop 8 trial in California, the defense’s inability to produce any evidence or credible witnesses in that case may have emboldened the ACLU to sue on behalf of seven Montana couples.

The couples in the Montana suit aren’t pursuing the right to marry. They simply want the state to provide their families with the same protections opposite-sex couples enjoy.

The lawsuit claims Montana violates its own state constitutional guarantees of rights like privacy, equal protection and due process. The suit seeks equal rights through domestic partnerships.

By this suit, Plaintiffs do not seek the opportunity to marry nor do they seek the designation of “marriage” for their relationships. … Plaintiffs simply seek the same opportunity to obtain the statutory protections and obligations that are offered by the State to different-sex couples and their families through the legal status of marriage.

One of the plaintiffs describes her experience of being denied access to her former partner’s remains and her employer denying bereavement leave.

On their eighth anniversary, Christmas Day in 1996, Mary’s former partner was killed in a tragic accident on Lone Peak, involving an avalanche control explosive. Although Mary and her former partner had, like Stacey and Mary have, taken legally available steps to try to protect their relationship, Mary found herself powerless in a number of essential ways following her former partner’s death.

Grief-stricken after the accident, Mary was denied access to her former partner’s remains, as the coroner explained that she had no legal relationship to her partner. Big Sky Ski Resort refused to give Mary bereavement leave. Because Mary’s former partner did not leave a will and the state law that protects spouses in the event of intestacy could not apply, the family of Mary’s former partner was able to take almost all of the partner’s possessions, including half of the balance of a mutual fund account to which the couple had jointly contributed. The family also received the partner’s Worker’s Compensation Death benefits — money that by law goes to spouses, but not to the domestic partners of committed, intimate, same-sex couples. In addition, the family, unlike Mary, was able to seek damages against the ski resort through a wrongful death suit, a legal recourse that was not available to Mary even though she had been in a committed, intimate relationship with her partner for eight years.

The Texas law goes even farther than the Montana anti-gay law. The Texas amendment prohibits anything “similar to or identical marriage.” But doesn’t that actually make all marriage illegal in Texas?

—  David Taffet