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Meet the SA-tied Couples Suing Texas for Marriage Equality

Photo: Courtesy Photos, License: N/A

Courtesy Photos

Avid travelers Vic Holmes (left) and Mark Phariss(right) visiting Antartica in 2013

Photo: , License: N/A

Cleopatra De Leon (left) and her spouse Nicole Dimetman


With the national battle for marriage equality waging across the states following the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage last year, a set of couples in Texas—backed by a high-powered law firm—vowed to take up the fight here. Challenging Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage, one couple wishes to wed while the other hopes their home state will recognize their lawful Massachusetts union. San Antonio, still reeling from its own city-centered LGBT rights battle, plays an integral role (in more ways than one) as ground zero for the latest legal battle for marriage equality.

 

Dial **141 For Love: Mark and Vic

At a mutual friend’s birthday party in 1997, Mark Phariss, at the time a practicing San Antonio-based attorney, met Victor Holmes, who was stationed at Brooks Air Force Base. Instantly enamored by Holmes, Phariss couldn’t shake the feeling.

“It was love at first sight for me,” he said during an interview from his Plano, TX, home.

But to Phariss’ dismay, Holmes was taken—he even had a date with his current boyfriend that very night. So Phariss played the waiting game.

As months progressed, the friendship blossomed and eventually Holmes ended his relationship and got serious with Phariss. Instead of dinner and a movie, the new couple had their first date at a local Human Rights Campaign meeting, hosted by a mutual friend and attended by Betty DeGeneres, national LGBT activist and mother of openly gay entertainer Ellen DeGeneres. Smitten, the couple moved in together a few months later. But after sharing a home for nearly two years, circumstances put a major test to the happy couple. As a member of the Air Force, Holmes was required to move to San Diego. For 11 years Pharris and Holmes played another waiting game, keeping their relationship strong until they could reunite geographically.

Hopping from California to Biloxi, Miss., (three years) to Little Rock, Ark., (three years) to at least comparably closer, Wichita Falls, TX, (four years), Holmes longed to come home to his partner, who had by then left SA for a job in Plano. Separated by hundreds of miles, the couple refused to give up, putting in the time to commute and communicate at any given chance, deflecting cynicism expressed by even close friends at the couple’s ability to conquer the distance.

“We called each other every morning and every night—it was the highlight of my day,” said Holmes.

While hard to imagine in the internet age, the relationship carried on before the ubiquity of wireless technology. Like a modern-day text, Holmes sent notes to his partner with a pager that translated numbers and symbols into messages like, “Will be home late.” His favorite message, Holmes fondly recalls, was **141—or, “I love you,”—used often before going on special assignment from the Air Force, where Holmes would be unreachable for multiple days.

“I love him no matter where he is or no matter where I am,” said Holmes. “Instead of dwelling on where empty space was when I got home, I focused on where home would one day be—and that’s how I got through the whole thing.”

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