Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex Aesexual (LGBTQIA) couples from across Texas flocked to Austin over the July 4 weekend to participate in Marriage Freedom Weekend, a multi-day, mass wedding ceremony.
One week after the historic June 26 Supreme Court decision struck down state bans on same-sex marriages, hundreds of couples were married by dozens of volunteer judges and religious leaders from all faiths. The event provided an opportunity for those who could not obtain marriage licenses in their home counties to get married.
Glen Maxey, Texas’s first openly gay state legislator, helped organize the event through the website and organization, getmarriedtexas.org. Over 50 weddings were conducted on the Capitol steps Saturday afternoon, Maxey said. On Sunday, more than 70 more couples were joined in matrimony at the courthouse.
All sorts of couples from many walks of life participated in Marriage Freedom Weekend, Maxey said.
There was the young marine dressed in her formal, blue uniform alongside her new wife. One lesbian couple’s marriage was witnessed by their quadruplet 6-year-olds. An 86-year-old man married his 68-year-old partner of 37 years. A transgender person was finally able to legally marry his wife.
“(There were) all these different groups of people from all sorts of different stories,” Maxey said. “We just had one big, fat wedding.”
Volunteers organized through getmarriedtexas.org to help same-sex couples through the legal hurdles of the marriage process, Maxey said.
“In Texas to get married, you have to have a license,” Maxey said. “You got to wait 72 hours unless a District Judge gives you a waiver, and then you have to get married by somebody who can marry you, meaning a minister or a judge. We were trying to take all that hassle out of it.”
Maxey said he found the entire experience “empowering.”
When Maxey first began working as an activist for LGBTQIA rights in the 1970s, “marriage equality was nowhere on anybody’s radar.”
“Homosexuality was illegal in Texas,” Maxey said. “People were fired from their jobs. All those barriers seemed so big then.”
Although times have changed, many Texans still oppose same-sex marriage, Maxey said.
Planning for the Marriage Freedom Weekend began early in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision, Maxey said. The event was organized to help same-sex couples get married with the expectation some county clerks in Texas might “drag their feet” in issuing licenses, he said.
Maxey was disappointed with both the message from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office and the delays in issuing licenses from some county clerk’s offices, he said.
Paxton said county clerks could choose to not issue same-sex licenses if compelled by personal religious reasons, Maxey said.
“Either (the county clerk) gives the license out, or (they) resign and let another person take their position who will,” Maxey said. “They don’t have the option of not.”
The Hays County Clerk’s Office did not begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses until June 29 due to technical difficulties, three days after the Supreme Court decision, said Laureen Chernow, Hays County Communications Specialist.
The clerk’s office had issued 15 total same-sex marriage licenses by July 4, Chernow said.
Around 98 percent of Texas counties are now issuing same-sex marriage licenses, Maxey said.
Although the majority of clerks have fallen in line with the Supreme Court decision, Maxey is pursuing lawsuits against counties that delayed or refused same-sex licenses, he said.
He said marriage is an essential right and not strictly a symbolic affair.
“A marriage license is 81 bucks in Travis County, but that marriage license fee gets you about 1,100 federal benefits,” Maxey said. “It’s not just the state recognizing a relationship. It’s giving people true benefits and protection.”
Susan Taylor, University Police Department officer, said she is one of those employees who will see a benefit from the decision.
Taylor’s wife, who has a history of medical issues, has had to pay high insurance premiums in the past, she said.
Cheaper insurance is not the only improvement the couple will see, Taylor said.
When her wife underwent surgery two weeks ago, Taylor was forced to bring legal documents to the hospital to ensure visitation rights if something went wrong, she said. If complications arose during surgery, there was a chance Taylor would not be allowed to see her wife before she died.
“It sucks,” Taylor said. “It’s terrible. It’s horrible.”
The Supreme Court’s decision means she does not have to worry about being locked out of her wife’s hospital room anymore, Taylor said.
“I can’t complain about that,” Taylor said.