There is a persistent mythology in and about Texas: the notion that we have somehow held on to the “Wild West” independent spirit, and always will. This mythology is heartily based in fact, I mean, we were our own country for a time, and people in and out of Texas often suggest that we secede (again). Even our slogan, “Don’t Mess With Texas,” is a challenge to anyone who dares to disturb our status quo. And our status quo on marriage is that it is between one man and one woman, forever and ever, amen.
A native Texan and lesbian to the core, it took me going to college all the way in Portland, OR to even realize and accept my sexual orientation. When I returned home after college, I experienced bizarre culture shock at having to be closeted once again. I got so used to the open attitudes in Portland that I was at times dangerously open about my identity. Initially hurt by my then-girlfriend’s hesitance about public displays of affection, it only took a few weeks for me to realize that holding her hand could actually be a matter of life or death here.
Despite the liberal oasis that is Austin and certain pockets of blue liberalism in the big cities like Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, the overwhelming majority of Texas is as red as a rare rib-eye steak. When it comes to same-sex attraction, some conservative Texans have a horribly patronizing “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, while others find it utterly abhorrent and want no mention of it. Together, these opinions have elected politicians who will fight tooth and nail to prevent marriage equality in the Lone Star State. Is it any wonder then, that despite state after state allowing it, even states like Oklahoma and Alabama, I still find it hard to believe that I will ever be able to get a marriage license without having to move?
Yesterday, the first same-sex marriage license was issued in Texas to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant. The license was issued by a county clerk who was acting on the orders of a Travis County judge, District Judge David Wahlberg, who ruled that the couple could not wait for later legislation due to Goodfriend’s diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer. The Texas Supreme Court then blocked the order, which prevented any additional licenses from being issued to other same-sex couples.
The single license granted to Goodfriend and Bryant was celebrated as a victory nonetheless, but I don’t think I am the only one who wasn’t surprised when Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that the Supreme Court ruling voided the couple’s license. The couple’s lawyer argues that the license is still valid, but as of now it is unclear what the status of their marriage will be.
There is hope for the couple and the rest of the same-sex couples in Texas, since a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit is currently deciding the constitutionality of Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, and the U.S. Supreme Court has also agreed to hear four same-sex marriage cases. There is a lot of confidence that no matter what happens in individual states before then, same-sex marriage will be ruled legal throughout the country by the U.S. Supreme Court this summer. I would love to share this same confidence, but Texas’ “Don’t Mess” attitude persists, and the Supreme Court has certainly let me down with recent rulings (glaring at you, Hobby Lobby). Marriage is far from an immediate concern of mine but I know how much good it would do for so many couples who need the legal and financial benefits that come with it.
But if, miracle of miracles, we do find ourselves celebrating nationwide marriage equality this summer, I can only hope that activists and allies do not pat themselves on the back and consider the fight for LGBT rights to be over. Marriage is just one right we need to secure for our community, but we cannot let wedding bells smother the needs of homeless LGBT youth, trans* rights, LGBT discrimination, and the myriad other ways in which our community is still not treated as equal.
Featured image via Jerry Hayes Photography.