The marriage equality movement gained steam in Texas when Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker announced her refusal to perform marriages because, as a lesbian, she can’t get married in her own state.
Parker, who sits on the 116th Civil District Court bench, spoke of the inequality during a Stonewall Democrats of Dallas meeting in February, setting off a storm of media coverage. A Dallas Voice YouTube video of her remarks was viewed more than 30,000 times.
The news soon went national and international, with coverage from the Washington Post and the New York Daily News to London’s Daily Mail. She said she’d received hundreds of interview requests within a week’s time, including Good Morning America and Ellen, but declined them all, including an in-depth interview with Dallas Voice, because the attention became a distraction from her judicial duties.
Local, state and national LGBT advocates and allies applauded Parker’s stance in the media, calling her a role model and a hero for using her status as an elected official to educate others on LGBT inequality in the state.
Parker has already paved the way in Texas as 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. She’s also the first known judge in the nation — gay or straight — to refuse to perform marriages because of inequality.
But her actions also brought a debate about whether she was neglecting her role as a judge by not performing marriages or if she should decline to marry straight couples. She clarified that after declining to perform a marriage, she would recommend a couple to another judge and use the opportunity to explain to them why she wouldn’t join the two in matrimony. Judges have the power to perform marriages, but the Texas Family Code doesn’t require them to as an obligatory duty, so Parker wasn’t breaking the law.
Her comments came early in a year that would prove to be historic for marriage equality from President Barack Obama coming out in support of same-sex marriage to marriage ballot measure wins in Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota.
While media attention eventually died down, Parker continued to attend and speak at Stonewall events in the area and at national law conferences.
She was honored by Youth First Texas as a community hero and also received Stonewall Democrats of Dallas’ Harryette Ehrhardt Distinguished Democrat Award at the group’s annual award ceremony in December.
Using her political position to advocate for equality and change people’s minds about injustices in the LGBT community made her a rising star — one people still can’t get enough of.