U.S. Fifth Circuit - The FindLaw 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

In the Heart of Texas, Gay Marriage Plaintiffs Will Finally Marry

When Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes tried to get married two years ago, they were told, "We don't do that in Texas." The couple sued, along with Nicole Dimetman and Cleo DeLeon, arguing that their relationship deserved equal legal rights and respect. They won in district court and, following the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges, in the Fifth Circuit.

Now, they do do that in Texas. And Phariss and Holmes will get the chance to do it as well, as the couple will finally get their marriage license this Friday in San Antonio, Texas.

The Road to Victory

Ten years ago, Texas amended its constitution to define marriage as "only of the union of one man and one woman." The amendment, passed via public referendum, was a reaction to increasing same-sex marriage rights, particularly Massachusetts's state Supreme Court ruling in 2003. That case was the first to hold that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional discrimination under a state's constitution.

It wasn't until 2013 that Texas's gay marriage ban was challenged, however. In January, Mark Phariss spoke with FindLaw's Brett Snider and explained the origin of the lawsuit that would eventually bring marriage equality to Texas. He recalled:

After Windsor came down, I was speaking with a long-time friend (Frank Stenger-Castro, the Deputy GC for Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld) about the need for someone in Texas to challenge the state's ban. Frank suggested his firm, Akin/Gump, should take on the case, and about a week later his management committee approved the case. Frank got back to me asking about plaintiffs, and I asked Vic, "What about us?" It kind of snowballed from there.

Celebrating Marriage Equality With a Marriage

That snowball lead to a strong win in district court. Western District of Texas Judge Orlando Garcia not only ruled that denying Phariss and Holmes access to marriage violated their constitutional rights, he ruled that laws targeting gays and lesbians for disparate treatment must be examined with heightened scrutiny. Judge Garcia's ruling, and the pair's wedding plans, were put on hold pending an appeal to the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court's recognition of a fundamental right to marriage in Obergefell. The Fifth Circuit affirmed Judge Garcia's judgment on July 1st.

Of course, Phariss and Holmes' marriage license isn't the end of the story. After obtaining the license in San Antonio, the couple of 18 years will wait two months for a wedding ceremony in their hometown of Frisco, Texas, they say. The pair plan on sharing the day "with family and friends around us and supporting us, all Deep in the Heart of Texas."

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