Judge Tonya Parker

Judge Tonya Parker

Dallas County Judge Tonya Parker’s comments about not performing marriages until same-sex couples can legally wed in Texas have made national headlines this week, since first being reported here on Instant Tea.

Parker’s speech at Tuesday’s monthly meeting of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas has been featured in The Washington Post, The Huffington PostWFAA’s Thursday newscast and on the front page of today’s Dallas Morning News (subscription only).

Media outlets that picked up the story highlighted Parker’s strong support for the LGBT community, with the only negative comments mixed in with the hundreds of thankful and encouraging comments on the various sites, including Dallas Voice’s original post and our YouTube video.

Parker emailed a statement in response to a Dallas Voice interview request Friday, writing “I faithfully and fully perform all of my duties as the Presiding Judge of the 116th Civil District Court, where it is my honor to serve the citizens of Dallas County and the parties who have matters before the Court.

“Performing marriage ceremonies is not a duty that I have as the Presiding Judge of a civil district court.  It is a right and privilege invested in me under the Family Code.  I choose not to exercise it, as many other Judges do not exercise it.  Because it is not part of our duties, some Judges even charge a fee to perform the ceremonies.

“I do not, and would never, impede any person’s right to get married.  In fact, when people wander into my courtroom, usually while I am presiding over other matters, I direct them to the Judges in the courthouse who do perform marriage ceremonies.   If my deputy is not busy, I will even ask him to escort or help these individuals find another Judge who performs the ceremonies.  I do this because I believe in the right of people to marry and pursue happiness.”

According to Chapter 3 of the Texas Family Code, a county judge is among the judges and religious leaders allowed to perform marriages and “may conduct the marriage ceremony.”

The term “may” is defined in the terminology section of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct as a term that “denotes permissible discretion or, depending on the context, refers to action that is not covered by specific proscriptions.”

Parker said Tuesday that she chooses not to conduct the ceremony and refers couples to other judges with the explanation of why she will not preside over the union.

“I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage inequality in this state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away,” Parker said.

Stonewall Democrats of Dallas President Omar Narvaez issued a statement Thursday saying the group is collectively proud of Parker’s work in turning the 116th Civil District Court into “an efficient model for other courts,” as well as her stance on marriage equality, with the group “responding in total support of Judge Tonya Parker as follows:”

“Judges in Texas are not allowed by law to marry people of the same sex. Many heterosexual judges do not perform marriage ceremonies with zero comment from the public in response. The reason many judges do not perform the ceremonies is simply because the law does not require them to perform marriage ceremonies. They have the right to perform them and many that do even charge for the service. Judge Parker is not required by law to perform marriage ceremonies. It is a right she has, but does not exercise because it cannot be administered equally to all citizens of this state. Simply she has the choice to perform them or not according to the law. She has not in any way refused to follow the law because this is not a duty she must perform in accordance to her position.

“Stonewall Democrats of Dallas believes in and is an advocate for marriage equality. The state of Texas’ constitutional amendment banning two people of the same sex to engage in a legal contract of commitment to each other by the state is discriminatory and allows a privilege for one set of people over another. Same sex couple’s inability to marry allows the government to deny 1,138 rights to those couples. Those 1,138 rights denied to same sex relationships create a 2nd class citizenry.

“Stonewall Democrats of Dallas applauds Judge Tonya Parker of the 116th District Court in Dallas County, Texas. Judge Parker has taken the 116th civil court from being ineffective and backlogged and turned it into an efficient model for other courts. In Judge Parker’s first year in office she not only closed 100’s of cases some dating back as far as 2002, but has delivered justice for the residents of Dallas County in a fair, blind and equal process as prescribed by the laws of the State of Texas. Her refusal to allow homophobic epithets and slurs to be used in her court and her demand for respect of others regardless of any and all differences fall in line with how she treats every single person equally without bias. Those who stand before her in court know they will be afforded equal treatment. This practice should be followed by every judge not only in Dallas County, but across the United States.

“Recently Judge Parker spoke to our organization and spent well over 1/3rd of her presentation on her duty to follow the law. She spent another 1/3rd of her presentation filling us in about what her court had to do in order to clean up and bring the 116th back up to speed with the other 12 civil courts. She spent another great deal of time explaining the types of cases tried before her court. Then she spent a very small amount of time, less than a minute, and mentioned marriage and how it is denied to same sex couples in Texas. She simply stated that she does not perform marriages for anyone because it is a right denied to her, and she could not do something for one that is denied to another. However, she quickly pointed out that she readily refers those able to marry under the law to any number of her colleague’s courts. She does not deny those privileged their rights.  Again, Judges gay or straight are not required by law to perform marriages and to keep consistent she chooses not perform marriages at all.

“Judge Tonya Parker’s work ethic backed by her ability to understand and implement the law makes her an outstanding jurist. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas is proud to have endorsed Judge Parker during her 2010 election. We are more than impressed by her many accomplishments during her first year of her first term and are excited to see her continue with much success. Stonewall Democrats of Dallas stands firmly in support of Judge Tonya Parker.”