Texas Activists Seek More "Pro-Active Approach" to Gaining Marriage Equality
When Michael Diviesti spoke about 9-9-9, he wasn’t referring to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain’s tax plan. Instead he was referring to nine marches and nine wedding ceremonies in nine Texas cities organized by GetEQUAL Texas and others interested in a more pro-active approach to gaining marriage equality in the Lone Star State.
In the end, there weren’t nine wedding ceremonies, only three of the cities had ceremonies, but the effort brought out as many as 2,500 people across the state in support of the cause on Saturday, Oct. 15.
"Prior to now street-level organizing has been reactive and this is the first time we’ve seen a pro-active stance in the South," said Tiffani Bishop, an organizer for the event in Austin.
"We’re stepping forward to move our rights in the right direction," added organizer Jay Morris.
The nine participating cities included Austin, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Dallas, Harlingen, Houston, Huntsville, Odessa, and San Antonio. Wedding ceremonies were performed in Dallas, where as many as 10 exchanged vows. Sixteen marriages took place in Austin, and four couples tied the knot in San Antonio.
Targeting Gov. Rick Perry
While a press release sent out prior to the event referenced a protest of Gov. Rick Perry’s hard-line stance against marriage for gay and lesbians Texans as evidenced by a National Organization for Marriage pledge onto which he signed, perhaps a decline in the Republican presidential hopeful’s poll numbers contributed to less of a focus on the governor.
"There was no mention of Rick Perry," said Diviesti, adding that while three people spoke at the State Capitol, there was a purposeful effort made not to mention specific politicians. "For the people there, we wanted it to be an experience that didn’t disenfranchise anyone who may lean conservative. We wanted to keep it about the couples and the fact that the marriage isn’t recognized."
Still for many there is no denying that the governor is part of the problem.
"Rick Perry is the cause to some degree of what is happening to our families in Texas, he should be representing all people," said Morris. "The way I see most of the candidates, and this includes President [Barack] Obama, is that if they do not support full equality for all people, they are not a worthy candidate to represent the American people. You either represent all of them or none of them."
Not a Religion Problem
While religion may be used by Perry and other candidates to justify their opposition to marriage equality, one of the purposes of the rallies and ceremonies was to show that source of discrimination is rooted in government rather than religion.
"We have shown the doors of religion are wide open to us and it’s the doors to the courthouses and marriage counters that are closed," said Bishop. "We have shown in nine different cities it’s not religion that’s denying us the right to marry. It’s the laws and government officials that are denying us those rights at this point."
Bishop also pointed out that the pledge the governor signed to "protect marriage" is actually anti-family and anti-marriage. Census data shows Texas has 17,000 children being raised by same-gender households. "Is the pledge protecting those families and those children?" asked Bishop.
Reaching Beyond the Big Cities
The 9-9-9 approach marked the first time events of this sort were held in many Texas cities, outside of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. One of the cities added was Odessa, population of 99,000 and located "in the heart of red country."
Organizer Isidro Gonzales said he thought the 70-80 people who came out in support of marriage equality in Odessa was pretty good, considering the fact that the event was the first of its kind there.
"Several people told us they were happy something is being done," said Gonzales, explaining the news that the event was on spurred considerable activity on the Facebook pages of local television stations. "It went viral. One had three hundred posts in about an hour. It was mostly pro-marriage equality. The detractors would fall back on biblical verses."
Odessa may have been the only city of the nine to have counter-protests during the event. Gonzales said an 18-year-old led those protests, but the rest of the protesters were probably around the age of 11.
"It was kind of sad," he said. "I know their parents didn’t know where they were."
Bishop said the lack of protesters was a sign of growing acceptance for the cause in the state.
"I don’t think it’s something most people are opposed to, even in Texas," he said. "Five years ago that wouldn’t have been the case."
A Civil Rights Issue
Activists said the change in public sentiment means whether Perry or another anti-marriage equality candidate is elected may not make a difference in the struggle to allow same-sex couples to tie the knot. Civil rights, they contend, have been achieved before in spite of those in office who may oppose them.
Gonzales said he was originally inspired by New York’s marriage equality bill, which passed with the help of a handful of Republican state Senators.
"It’s a civil thing," he said. "We just want the basic rights afforded to other married couples."
"I think with any kind of social justice matter and any kind of civil rights matter, it doesn’t matter who is in office when people demand being treated equally," added Bishop. "Those demands will be met inevitably. We’ve seen this evidenced in the civil rights movement and the women’s suffrage movement, both which were able to pass even without the support of politicians. The constituency was demanding that things change. It’s not a reason to get discouraged if your candidates don’t make it into office."
Morris looked towards the future.
"There will come a day when our weddings and our love won’t be the subject of a political debate or a reason to protest," he said.