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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

The far-reaching opinion, which affords same-sex couples federal legal protections, set off a swarm of marriage equality cases challenging state anti-gay laws across the country, including in Tennessee and Utah. To date, 17 states as well as Washington, D.C. have legalized gay marriage, and plaintiffs from 21 states are currently challenging their state laws.

“The Windsor decision gave us hope and belief that we will prevail,” said Phariss.

The DOMA ruling merged with the generous offer by Dimetman’s former employer, local law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which took on the case pro-bono. Equipped with expansive resources and legal titans like the former U.S. assistant solicitor general, the firm’s San Antonio branch is ready for the challenge.

“My clients are simply asking to be treated the same as [the majority] of citizens of the U.S. who are afforded the opportunity to be married to the person they love and receive benefits that flow that from relationship,” said attorney Neel Lane from his San Antonio office.

The stars seemed to align for both couples, and the impetus for a full-fledged suit arose.

“Everything just came together at the right minute; it was the perfect formula all at once, so we said, ‘OK, let’s do it’, but at the same time, we know it’s not going to happen overnight,” said Holmes.

Indeed, the couples are fighting within a notably hostile political and legal climate for LGBT rights. It is, after all, home to a place where state sodomy laws remain on the books, despite being ruled unconstitutional in the landmark 2003 U.S. Supreme Court case Lawrence v Texas.

Texas has time and again re-codified laws against same sex marriage, starting in 1997, when the Texas Legislature enacted the first ban. It then bolstered the prohibition with its own version DOMA in 2003, further outlawing same-sex marriage by barring couples married out of state from recognition in Texas. The code mandates the state cannot honor “a public act, record or judicial proceeding that creates, recognizes or validates a marriage between persons of the same sex or a civil union in this state or in any other jurisdiction,” as well as any right to claim legal protection, benefit or responsibility.

But even after twice codifying the anti-LGBT legislative edict, lawmakers, arguing on the basis of maintaining traditional values—not to mention a host of other goals in which sexual orientation plays no proven part, like combating poverty, contributing to healthy environments and preventing pedophilia and promiscuity—still weren’t satisfied. In 2005, the Legislature proposed a constitutional amendment that would relegate legal marriage to “consist only of the union of one man and one woman.” Placed on a ballot for voters, the measure passed with roughly 76 percent of the vote.

However, attitudes about same-sex marriage appear to be steadily evolving. According to a 2013 poll commissioned by state LGBT rights lobbying and advocacy group Equality Texas, the largest increase in support for the gay community was found among voters’ growing approval of same-sex marriage. By a 47.9 percent to 47.5 percent margin—a minor plurality—Texans support allowing lesbian and gays the freedom to marry, a more than five percent increase since the September 2010 poll. Similarly, while a June 2009 Texas Tribune/University of Texas poll showed 29 percent of people polled supported gay marriage, by June 2013 that figure rose some 10 percentage points, with 39 percent of those polled embracing same-sex marriage.

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