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On Freedom’s Frontier

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Local same-gender couples, including Victor Martinez and Barry Ouellette, line up to express their joy and protest this month during National Freedom to Marry Week.

by Michael Rowell

Victor Martinez hoists Barry Ouellette. The couple will participate in the February 18 same-gender wedding held during National Freedom to Marry Week.

Freedom of choice. As a nation we take it for granted, even though it isn’t something we are all free to pursue—especially for gay, lesbian, and transgender people. More than just a demonstration about marriage rights, National Freedom to Marry Week (February 12–18) and local observances organized by the Houston-based Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality will be both a rally and protest to fight for our individual right to choose. To culminate the week, several couples will converge in a mass same-sex wedding on February 18 to publicly proclaim their love and commitment to each other in a fight for their freedom to choose to marry.

One such couple is Victor Martinez and Barry Ouellette, who we photographed for our post-election coverage following the victory of the antigay marriage amendment to the Texas constitution (“What Now?” December 2005). The two met in Argentina 11 years ago and have been together ever since. In fact, this month will mark their 11th anniversary. Interviewed in their Houston home, the couple said, for them, the week was more of a protest.

“We’re still waiting for it to be legal,” Ouellette said.   “When it is, we’ll have our own ceremony. For us this week is about protesting for equal rights for all citizens.”

This ceremony will be the couple’s fourth year to participate in the Freedom to Marry Week.

“We want state and federal rights, and only marriage does that—not civil unions. You can’t contract federal rights,” said the couple (Martinez and Ouellette have an endearing tendency to finish each other’s sentences). For them, those rights are especially important because Martinez is an Argentine citizen, and as a same-sex partner Ouellette is not permitted to sponsor him for U.S. citizenship.

The couple went on to say that a desire to marry is not necessary to be concerned about this social injustice.   Everyone should have the right to make the decision to marry, or not to—regardless of their sexuality or any other factor, they said. “We should be the ones making the decision as to whether or not marriage is right for us, not our government. The courts protect minorities, and that’s being taken away because, after all, it’s all about the votes come election time—and making unpopular rulings doesn’t get you elected.”

Prior to the November election, the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality staged the No Tragedy in November event to illustrate the legal rights denied same-gender couples.

As for what they expect this year, the couple said that reactions in the past have been mixed, ranging from religious-right protestors waving posters proclaiming “God hates fags” to passersby shouting “Congratulations!” and “Good for you!” During the first Freedom to Marry ceremony in Houston, a bomb threat was announced from the pulpit to the crowd gathered at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church. In spite of the warning, nearly all of the marrying couples, family, friends, and observers chose to remain for the service. Ouellette said he thinks angry protests might be worse this year. “After Proposition 2 passed, who knows what’s going to happen?”

Although a little discouraged after the recent election results in Texas and across the country, the couple remains optimistic. “Although it’s sad that we’re off fighting for equal rights for people abroad, and not our people at home, we’re remaining positive. Change will come. For one of the first times in its history, the U.S. is following others when it comes to social reform, and it’s used to taking the lead.”

Our Declaration of Independence proclaims, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created equal.   . . .” If we are to be equals, then the fight for equality is not over—a bit deterred maybe, but far from over. In fact, the fight has just begun. As a nation, we have reached a crucial time in our development, a time to choose whether or not to continue fighting for the freedom to choose. Now is the time for us to take back the reins, and quit being content to follow.

Michael Rowell previewed Brokeback Mountain in our December 2005 issue.

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EXTRA INFO: MARRIAGE PLANS
Besides hosting the February 18 ceremony billed as “Texas’s Largest Same-Sex Wedding,” the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality has planned additional events during National Freedom to Marry Week (February 12–18):
• Kick-off activities on February 12 held in coordination with local churches and synagogues.
• A four-part discussion series over four days (February 13, 15, 16, and 17) addressing the psychology of sexual orientation and gender identity; the biology of sexual orientation and gender identity; views of various faith traditions on sexual orientation and gender identity; and a legal update on same-sex marriage.
• Protest at the Harris County clerk’s office on February 17 over the inability of same-sex couples to obtain marriage licenses.
• Same-sex wedding ceremony hosted by leaders from various faith traditions.
Details and venues were not determined by press time. Updated information is available at www.familyequality.org (phone: 713/227-1717). The National Freedom to Marry Week website, www.freedomtomarry.org, offers news of observances across the country.

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