We can’t ask politely for our rights

March 3, 2010

DALLAS--Against a rare backdrop of newly fallen snow, the scene was fit for a wedding.

A group of about 20 people from the Texas regional activist group Queer Liberaction and International Socialist Organization gathered February 12 to participate in the second annual Freedom to Marry Day. The event focused on gaining marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people through civil disobedience and public exposure.

The Dallas Records Building, where marriage licenses are issued, was closed due to the snow, so the group wasn't able to apply for a marriage license as participants had originally intended. But they decided to hold a mock wedding instead, and come back to apply for licenses when the office reopened.

Wendy Church and Kay Mathews, two women originally married in Iowa eight years ago, 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," Church said.

As the San Francisco Perry v. Schwarzenegger case--which challenges the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage otherwise known as the Prop 8--builds steam, appeals are likely to propel the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The grassroots-organized National Equality March in Washington, D.C., attended by some 200,000 set the stage for a national movement to demand full marriage equality across the country.

Queer Liberaction made a name for itself when the organization became involved in the struggle for LGBT justice after the Rainbow Lounge raid. The June 28, 2009, raid on the newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth coincided with the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, which touched off the modern gay rights movement.

The Texas raid exposes the rampant police brutality and prejudice against LGBT people, and sparked protests that led to an independent investigation by the city. This struggle highlighted Queer Liberaction's sentiment toward organizing, "We don't ask for equality, we demand it!"

"It's not about religion, it's not about God," Mathews said. "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."

THE TWO women stood together before Rev. Daniel Kanter of the First Unitarian Church of Dallas. As a guitar player strummed the song "Going to the Chapel," protesters sang and held signs that read, "End Marriage Segregation Now!" Everyone became quiet, as the reverend 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 the reverend continued, 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 group of protesters came back to the records building the following week. 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, denying the women 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 didn't break the law. "There shouldn't be any difference between taxpayers," he said.

The group left the Records Building singing "We Shall Overcome." Outside, protesters organized a speakout, with speakers standing on top of a crate called the "Milk Box" in honor of slain LGBT rights leader Harvey Milk. Wilkinson said:

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.

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. Evan, 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 v. 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.

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