Texas Activists: Marriage Equality in N.Y. Bolsters Local Efforts
The passage of New York's marriage equality bill certainly boosted the morale of Texas advocates, but others caution there's no obvious or easy path to nuptials for same-sex couples here.
"The bill in New York really impacted Texas," said Michael Diviesti of GetEQUAL. "I was in downtown Dallas the next day for a Stonewall celebration and we had expected 50-60 people and a couple hundred showed up. That energy came from seeing the news the night before."
Unlike New York, Texas has a constitutional amendment outlawing marriages for same-sex couples or anything similar. The actual wording states that "marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman" and that "this state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage."
The amendment would require a legislative super-majority to repeal, and experts conclude that makes achieving same-sex unions here much more difficult.
"From a very legal standpoint the New York decision really doesn't have any impact because we have a constitutional amendment that we don't recognize out-of-state marriages," explained Dennis Coleman, executive director at Equality Texas. "What (the New York decision) does do is highlight what we don't have here in Texas."
That doesn't mean, however, that there isn't work to do or reason to celebrate. In fact, buoyed by the New York decision, many Texas communities are planning activities on National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. Diviesti is particularly encouraged that many small communities outside of Dallas, Houston and Austin will participate. Events are currently planned in those cities plus San Antonio, Brownsville, Corpus Christi and Huntsville and could be organized in Fort Worth, Lubbock, Odessa, San Angelo and elsewhere.
"It's going to be a marriage counter-action where couples are going to go to their county clerk's office and request to be married," said Diviesti. That will be followed by marriage equality marches around the state on Oct. 15.
"The energy in Texas currently is like wildfire," added Diviesti. "People here are ready for equality. The LGBT community here has been on the sidelines watching what the rest of the country is doing. Once they realized it passed in New York with a majority Republican legislature, they said-hey wait a minute."
Governor Rick Perry made headlines himself last week when he said that the 10th Amendment, which states that powers not granted to the federal government are reserved for the states or the people, actually gives New York the right to legalize same-sex unions. A spokesperson later confirmed the probable 2012 presidential candidate supports the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Gays and lesbians began to legally marry in the Empire State on Sunday, July 24.
"Having Perry say something like that lets me know that once we make headwinds, he's going to allow the state to do what the state would do, although I'd expect a veto if a marriage equality bill ever hit his doorstep," said Diviesti. He also suggested that the statement could be used to advocate for a repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Coleman also saw the governor's statements in a positive light.
"Looking head the governor has said he supports that it was New York's right to make that decision, and where I think that is great is that Texas is not like it was in 2005 when the constitutional amendment passed," he said. "Attitudes are changing."
A recent Equality Texas found that 63.3 percent of voters support civil unions. In 2005, only 24 percent of Texas voters supported marriage for same-sex couples. That number has increased to 43 percent.
"It's a big leap," said Coleman. "Texans are changing their views on how they regard relationships and marriage for LGBT people."