Texas sit-in for right to marry

August 13, 2012

Elizabeth Clinton, Natalie Johnson and Kimberly Johnston report from Texas on the continuing struggle to win marriage equality for same-sex couples.

"ALMOST 57 years ago, Rosa Parks took a stand...an act of civil disobedience that would eventually bring about great change."

Mark "Major" Jiminez and Beau Chandler say on their Facebook page that they view their struggle to marry in the same terms--and like Rosa Parks, they're tired of being treated like second-class citizens.

The two men want to acquire a marriage license in the state of Texas. On July 5, they went to the Dallas County Clerk's Office to change their last names and apply for a license. "We will most probably be denied," they explained on their Facebook event page. "We are going to inform them that we are not going to leave until they allow us a marriage license."

After being denied a marriage license, they handcuffed themselves together and sat down in front of the counter, blocking the line. At closing time, when they still refused to leave, they were arrested for criminal trespassing. The photograph of them handcuffed together went viral.

Major and Beau posted bail at $500 each and were then reimbursed by donations collected by GetEqual Texas. For their first offense, they could be charged up to $2,000 each and sentenced to as much as 180 days in jail. "Anyone who cares about marriage equality should be outraged," said Major and Beau. "This is not just about the two of us...it's about all of us who are tired. We are finally saying 'no,' for the people united will never be defeated."

Beau Chandler and Mark "Major" Jiminez
Beau Chandler and Mark "Major" Jiminez

On August 2, Major and Beau appeared in two separate court rooms simultaneously at the Crowley Criminal Courts Building in Dallas to learn their future court dates. That morning, activists gathered at around 7 a.m. and marched to the courthouse.

About 30 activists rallied outside of the courthouse at 9 a.m., holding signs such as "Free Major and Beau," "Civil Disobedience for Civil Rights" and "Would you rather be like MLK or the KKK?" One participant wore his Boy Scouts uniform, waving a rainbow flag in support of LGBT rights.

SUPPORTERS OF equal marriage who gathered at the protest found solidarity with anti-police brutality activists, linking their struggle against a system that denies LGBT people rights and a system that brutalizes Black and Brown communities.

Activists in support of Major and Beau demonstrated alongside members of an anti-police brutality group called Stay Focused, which protests at the courthouse three times a week in response to the eight victims of police murder in Dallas over the past seven months.

GetEqual organizers Michael and C.D., spoke at length about the connections between the struggle for LGBTQ rights and the struggle against racism, a theme that Major and Beau were eager to emphasize as well. "We are one human family, and LGBT people exist in all corners of communities," said Michael. "If we aren't fighting for it all, we aren't really fighting for ourselves."

This is why GetEqual protested the Corporate Corrections of America, a private prison that profiles and arrests suspected undocumented immigrants on a mass scale. While they are focused on LGBT issues, they also realize their struggle is not isolated from others.

C.D., a Black woman and member of the LGBT community, passionately expressed her disgust with the recent murder of a gay Black woman in Texas, who was found dead in the woods. This is the third killing of the sort in the past month in Texas. "I'm living in a conundrum," she said, "I experience racism in the LGBT community...gays are at the bottom in this society. When will we draw the line? When will we see justice?"

GetEqual started as a small group of friends in Austin and has expanded to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Michael described the work that they have been doing, such as organizing around two women who applied for a marriage license in Austin on February 14. When they were denied, they staged a sit-in, which resulted in their arrest and the arrest of their maid-of-honor. The lawyer that worked on their case is also volunteering to work on Major and Beau's.

AFTER THE rally for Major and Beau, about 20 activists walked back to the Dallas County Clerk's Office where the two tried again to obtain a marriage license. On the form that applicants have to fill out, one line has a space for "Groom" and the other "Bride." Major and Beau put both of their names next to "Groom" and wrote "Still not applicable" next to "Bride."

Major and Beau were called to speak to a clerk, who was sympathetic, but told them that she couldn't give them a marriage license. After they were told no, Major and Beau handcuffed themselves together and sat down at the front of the line, waiting for the next available clerk.

A security guard approached, telling them to move. After attempting to reason with the guard about why they shouldn't have to move, Major, Beau and their supporters moved out of the line and into the foyer.

Participants were moved to sit in and occupied the county clerk's office. Over the next few hours, three other same-sex couples attempted to obtain marriage licenses, and all of them were told that Texas state law excludes them from marriage. One of the participants said that she "had tried to get a marriage license knowing that [she] would be told no, but that it brought tears to [her] eyes to be treated like a second-class citizen."

One out-of-state supporter said that in order for him and his same-sex partner to receive some of the 1,300 benefits that married couples receive, he had to pay over $7,000, whereas a marriage license for straight couples only costs around $75.

Major went back to the front of the line, demanded a marriage license and handcuffed himself to the retractable material that serves as a barrier between the stanchions in the line. "They want to shove us to the back, and we're not going to have that," he said. "We have just as much right to stand at that counter as anyone else."

For the next couple of hours, security officials, including the Dallas Police Department and the sheriff's office, multiplied at the Dallas County Clerk's Office. Reporter after reporter filed into the building to cover the story.

At 4:30 p.m., when the Dallas County Clerk's Office closed, police and security told protesters to clear the building or be arrested. Major refused to be moved and was arrested and carried out of the building. He was released at around 1:30 that morning on $1,500 bail with a second charge of criminal trespassing. Protesters followed the police to the jail and rallied outside until he was released.

Whatever the future holds for Major and Beau, we know that this struggle is much bigger than just the two of them. In the words of Beau Chandler:

As we've seen with bigotry throughout history, it usually takes that act of civil disobedience to get the ball rolling, whether it's crowds standing, demanding that one drinking fountain be installed, and being sprayed down with fire hoses as they roll down the street, to sitting at a marriage counter and refusing to leave until you get your license. [This] is sometimes simply what it takes for revolution to start in this country.

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