Court says Texas AG can’t block gay divorce

Angelique Naylor

Associated Press

AUSTIN — The Texas attorney general can’t block a divorce granted to two women who were legally married elsewhere, an appeals court ruled Friday, Jan. 7.

A judge in Austin granted a divorce last February to Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, who were married in Massachusetts in 2004 and then returned home to Texas.

A day after the divorce was granted, Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott filed a motion to intervene in the case, arguing the judge didn’t have the jurisdiction to grant the divorce because Texas has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The judge ruled that the attorney general’s motion wasn’t timely, a decision Abbott then appealed.

In Friday’s ruling, a three-judge panel of 3rd Texas Court of Appeals in Austin said the state was not a party of record in the divorce case and Abbott therefore did not have standing to appeal.

The ruling, however, does not settle the debate over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to divorce in Texas, where a different appeals court has ruled against a gay couple seeking a divorce in the state.

The 5th Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas ruled in August that gay couples legally married in other states can’t get a divorce in Texas. In that case, Abbott had appealed after a Dallas judge said she did have jurisdiction to grant a divorce — though had not yet granted one — and dismissed the state’s attempt to intervene.

The ruling by the Dallas appeals court’s three-judge panel also affirmed the state’s same-sex marriage ban was constitutional. Texas voters in 2005 passed, by a 3-to-1 margin, a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage even though state law already prohibited it.

Austin attorney Jody Scheske, who handled the appeals in both divorce cases, acknowledged the divergent rulings far from settle the issue of gay couples seeking a divorce in Texas.

“It’s complicated and to some extent remains unsettled and that’s unfortunate,” he said. “If you have a legal marriage you should have the same equal right to divorce as all other married people have.”

But for his client in the Austin case, the Friday ruling means she will remain divorced, Scheske said.

“For the larger issue, what it means is the state of Texas can’t intervene in private lawsuits just because it doesn’t like one of the trial court’s rulings,” he said. “The state was not a party, so they couldn’t intervene after the fact.”

The attorney general can choose to ask the entire Austin appeals court to hear the case there or can appeal the Friday ruling to the Texas Supreme Court.

Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean said their office “will weigh all options to ensure that the will of Texas voters and their elected representatives is upheld.”

“The Texas Constitution and statutes are clear: only the union of a man and a woman can be treated as a marriage in Texas. The court’s decision undermines unambiguous Texas law,” Bean said.

Unlike the Dallas case, the Austin case did not examine whether the judge had jurisdiction to grant the divorce. Ken Upton, a staff attorney for Lambda Legal, a national legal organization that promotes equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, noted the Austin appeals court decision was in fact quite narrow.

“Basically, the only rule that comes out of it is that (Abbott) waited too long,” he said.

He said the predicament of gay couples seeking divorce in Texas highlights what happens when states adopt “such different views about marriage and relationships.”

“The more we have this patchwork of marriage laws, the more difficult it is for people who don’t have access to the same orderly dissolution,” he said.

—  John Wright

Daddy knows best

Sexy pianist Jim Brickman makes touring a family affair

RICH LOPEZ  | lopez@dallasvoice.com

concert-1
PAPA JIM | Jim Brickman strives to keep his road crew one big, happy family as they head to Dallas. (Arnold Wayne Jones | Dallas Voice)

JIM BRICKMAN
Meyerson Symphony Center,
2301 Flora St. Jan. 7–8  at 8 p.m. $39–$117.
DallasSymphony.com

……………………….

Switching out of holiday mode can be tough: putting away decorations and getting back to daily grind takes some adjusting.

The same can be said for celebrities — at least for Jim Brickman. The smooth-playing pianist (and sometime singer) has performed a holiday tour for 15 years which just wrapped up in the final week of 2010. Now he has to shift gears quickly for 2011 with his spring and winter tour A Night of Romance, which comes to the Meyerson this week.

Whichever show Brickman is on the road with though, he keeps it a family affair, with Brickman serving as the loveable patriarch.

“It took me, like, 15 years to get the right combo of talent and crew,” he says. “We all work so hard so it’s like a road family. When we’re on the bus, the crew and talent are all together. There is lots of loyalty in this group for each other and I want them to take pride in their work and each other.”

But even with the warm fuzzies, Brickman is still the boss. Like any parent, he pushes his children to strive for the best and encourages the work of everyone involved, from the lights people to his band — even himself.

“This tour has been going so well, “ he says. “I’ve been most proud because this show is extremely tight and the flow is perfect. I don’t want audiences to want to wait for something to happen and they’ve been great.”

His audience might be considered a third family. Where some aim for roaring crowds, Brickman likes a more personal impression; if a fan feels like it was a one-on-one experience, the musician calls that the bigger triumph.

“I’m very fond of that dynamic because that becomes very family-like,” he says. “I’ve learned that the more you are who you really are and the less you perform to an audience, the more comfortable they feel. When you play a hall, especially like [the Meyerson], there’s an energy about it and the audience creates that and takes it with them.”

On his newest album, Home, he ventures into country music and collaborates with genre staples Lady Antebellum and Ty Herndon, among others. This might sound like a departure, but he sees it as more relevant than people might think.

“The thing about country music is it’s extremely organic and by nature is more acoustic — more so than any genre,” he says. “I wanted it to feel very comfortable. You put it on and have a sense of simplicity and make it like a soundtrack for chilling at home.”

He gives high marks to country singers over most pop singers, too, which he attributes to being storytellers. On of all his duets, which include Martina McBride and Olivia Newton-John, he says the one that came together the best was with a very green singer.

“You know, I’d have to say that Kermit the Frog was probably my favorite one. I always think that there has to be a chemistry between me and performer and it was there,” he laughs.

Brickman is a veteran of the biz; He released his first album, No Words, in 1994 and his holiday CDs have been popular sellers since. But he still admits he’s a little anxious about his upcoming shows with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

“Yeah, when I’m performing live, I’m solo, so if I decide the audience needs a pick me up, I can do something because I’m an improviser,” he says. “You can’t do that with the symphony. If you don’t play what they are playing and you hit two wrong measures — yeah, that’s not a good situation.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas