WAITING FOR WEDDED BLISS | Mark Phariss, right, and Vic Holmes have been together for more than 16 years and are tired of waiting for marriage equality to come to Texas. They, along with an Austin couple, filed a federal lawsuit in October for the freedom to marry in Texas. (Courtesy Photo)


With marriage equality gains across the country in 2013, the Lone Star State turned its attention first to whether officials should allow same-sex couples to divorce.

The Texas Supreme Court heard two combined cases in November of couples who married in Massachusetts but sought to dissolve the unions in their home state of Texas.

The couples argued the validity of the marriages was recognized in Massachusetts, so Texas didn’t need to recognize them in order to grant a divorce. But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott fought them, arguing that same-sex couples in

Texas can’t divorce because the state’s 2005 constitutional marriage amendment doesn’t allow the state to recognize their marriages, resulting in conflicting opinions from appeals courts in Austin and Dallas.

Austin couple Angelique Naylor and Sabrina Daly were granted a divorce in a lower court. Abbott intervened and filed in the Third Court of Appeals, but the lower court’s decision was upheld. Abbott then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

Abbott intervened to block the divorce of Dallas couple H.B. and J.B. from the beginning. The couple appealed to the high court.

Abbott has spent $189,912.08 fighting the cases from January 2009 to July 2013, according to documents obtained by Dallas Voice.

The cases were before the high court since 2011. Briefs were once requested, and were again requested over the summer after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor.

Jody Scheske, the attorney for the two couples, focused his arguments on the validity of their marriages in another state. He further highlighted that only the parties petitioning for a divorce, and not the state, have a right to contest it.
Assistant Attorney General James Blacklock, representing the state, argued the constitutionality of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was brought into the cases by the previous judges’ rulings. He said the state was, therefore, justified to intervene and defend state law, which doesn’t recognize the same-sex couples’ marriages for any purpose.

Meanwhile, a Plano and Austin couple hoping to marry in Texas filed a federal lawsuit in San Antonio in October.

Mark Phariss and Victor Holmes of Plano, joined by Austin couple Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman, are the plaintiffs in the case. Both couples met in San Antonio years ago, but while the lesbian couple later married out of state, they want their union recognized here, and Phariss and Holmes want to marry in Texas.

The attorney for the couples filed a temporary injunction to prevent state officials from enforcing the state marriage amendment. The motion further requested the Plano couple be issued a marriage license.

Federal District Judge Orlando Garcia is set to hear arguments for the injunction on Feb. 12.

While the couples’ attorney sees a favorable outcome for the injunction and case, Gov. Rick Perry and Abbott, listed as defendants in the case, could request proof that the law harms same-sex couples, delaying a ruling on the motion for a year or more.

— Anna Waugh

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 27, 2013.