Dallas – Against the backdrop of a rare amount of newly fallen snow, the city was a scene fit for a wedding. A group of about 20 people from the Texas regional activist group Queer Liberaction gathered early on February 12 to participate in the second annual Freedom to Marry Day. The event focused on gaining marriage equality for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered) community through civil disobedience and public exposure.
The Dallas Records Building, which issues the legal rights and benefits of state-recognized marriage only to opposite-sex couples, was closed due to the snow, so the group was not able to apply for a marriage license as they had originally intended. They decided to hold a mock-style wedding and come back to apply for the license when the office reopened. Wendy Church and Kay Mathews, two women originally married in Iowa eight years prior, took questions from the local Channel 33 news as they prepared for their second wedding ceremony.
“This is for people who had to keep secrets and lies,” Wendy Church said standing next to her partner.
As the San Francisco Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage otherwise known as the Prop 8 trial, builds steam, the appeals are likely to propel the case to the United States Supreme Court. What is being called “the new civil rights movement” is gaining traction as national interest mounts on this issue. The grassroots-organized National Equality March in Washington, DC, attended by 200,000 to 300,000, set the stage for a national movement to make demands on the establishment of traditional marriage all over the country.
The Freedom to Marry Day challenges national tensions on the issue in one of the most conservative areas of the nation. Queer Liberaction made a name for itself when the organization became involved in the struggle for justice after the Rainbow Lounge raid. The June 28, 2009, TABC raid on the newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. It was Stonewall that touched off the modern gay rights movement. The raid controversy was mired in police brutality, prejudice and protest, which led to an independent investigation by the city. It was this struggle that highlighted Queer Liberaction’s position on LGBT rights – “We don’t ask for equality, we demand it!”
“It makes no sense to us that there are murderers and rapists in prison who have more rights than we do, and we’re the people you want living next door to you,” Church said. The couple has been involved in LGBT activism for years.
“The taxpayers support them, but I do not get the same rights they do, so that doesn’t make sense to me,” Kay Mathews said. “It’s not about religion, it’s not about God. God loves me. I have a great thing going with God. It’s about a civil ceremony that offers us rights, protections and benefits that anybody else has.”
Six police watched the group as they organized for the ceremony. “We’re just going through the motions of the county,” said an officer with the Criminal Intelligence Unit. He spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his detective status. “They’ve done this before. It’s usually always peaceful.”
The two women stood together before Reverend Daniel Kanter of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. A stream of protesters walked slowly up through an artificial aisle cleared from the snow to the wider area where the couple and senior minister stood. With an acoustic guitar player strumming the tune to “Going to the Chapel,” the protesters sang and held signs that said “End Marriage Segregation Now!” All quieted, Reverend Kanter began.
“Welcome all. We are here to celebrate the union of Wendy and Kay on this cold afternoon. We are here because of dignity, because of hope, because of joy, the joy of being alive. We are here to celebrate especially love,” Kanter said. As he went on through the ceremony, the two women began to cry as they were married all over again.
“I pronounce you now loving partners by the power of this gathering, by the power of this group that extends their hand of love on you, by the power of a God that loves all people, and by the power of this very moment I pronounce that you are loving partners in our presence. Will you embrace and kiss each other.”
A smaller version of the group came back to the records building that following Wednesday, February 17, to finalize their point. They filed up the stairs to the third floor with signs and a rainbow flag. Jamilla Hammami and Davlin Kerekes went through the line and filed an electronic application for a marriage license. The group sat and waited. County Clerk John Warren came out to deliver the bad news.
“I took an oath to uphold the laws of the state and the county,” Warren said. He denied the girls a marriage license.
“You have a moral obligation to not uphold unjust bigoted laws,” Blake Wilkinson of Queer Liberaction said. “Stand in solidarity with the LGBT community and issue this license.”
In the end, Warren agreed to work harder to see that the LGBT community was treated fairly in Dallas County, but he did not break the law. “There shouldn’t be any difference between taxpayers,” he said. The group left the Records Building singing “We Shall Overcome.” Once outside, the group had a free-speech event. Speakers stood on top of a crate called the “Milk Box” in honor of Harvey Milk.
“Our opponents say marriage is a pillar of society, that it is a bedrock. That’s true. It is a bedrock, of two people loving each other and creating a family. They say it’s too early, that this is an experiment. We want to protect the children. It might shake up the system. We argue that we are families; we do have children. The only thing separating us from them is the 1,300-plus rights and benefits of a recognized legal marriage,” Wilkinson said.
“We are in a special place right now. The Prop 8 trial has a strong chance to go to the Supreme Court. It will be our Brown v. Board of Education. To understand where we are, we have to go back to the 1996 trial of Romer v. Evans, which upheld workplace protection for gays and lesbians. They upheld that if we live in a civil society, we have a right to pursue happiness, that we do have the right to freedom. Now we come to Perry vs. Schwarzenegger. If they argue that we have the right to life then that will be a fulfillment of the Constitution. But we are a suspect class. That’s why we can’t ask politely for a marriage license. Winning the fight against the law is only the first step,” he said.