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Equality Denied

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Houston joins national protest following antigay state elections.

Dec2008coverBy Nancy Ford
Photos by Dalton DeHart

On the sunny and seasonably crisp afternoon of November 15, hundreds of gay and straight individuals gathered on the steps of Houston’s City Hall to protest the November 4 passage of antigay legislation in Arizona, Arkansas, California, and Florida (as well as similar legislation passed by Texas voters in 2005).

 During the November 4 general election, legislation banning same-sex marriage was passed in Arizona, California, and Florida. In California, voters passed Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that overturned the right to marry previously granted to same-sex couples by the California Supreme Court.

1138 In another blow to proponents of gay equality, Arkansas voters passed the Proposed Initiative Act No. 1 by nearly 57 percent. The measure bans people who are “cohabitating outside a valid marriage”—regardless of gender—from becoming foster parents or adopting children.

 In response, protesters gathered simultaneously in front of city halls, court houses, community centers, and other public locations in all 50 states to voice their opposition to last month’s elections stripping homosexuals of their marriage and family rights. 

“Gay, straight, black, white—marriage is our equal right!”

focus The Houston rally, organized locally by the Houston GLBT Community Center, the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality, Houston Young Stonewall Democrats, Equality Texas, and Join the Impact, was held at the same time similar protests were being staged nationwide.

 Among the speakers at the Houston rally were poet Donna Garrett, Texas State Representatives Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar, Houston GLBT Community Center President Christopher Bown, longtime community advocate Ray Hill, Houston television personality Ernie Manouse, Unitarian Universalist minister Rev. David Keyes, attorney John Nechman, PFLAG parents Lisa and Teddy Lett, and attorney Jerry Simoneaux.

 Ray Hill invoked the name of slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk, imploring the crowd to “Come out! Come out! Come out! And we’ll have enough strength to overturn any referendum. If you want to be free and equal people, appear to be free and equal people,” Hill challenged the enthusiastic crowd.

kiss Houston PBS’s Ernie Manouse affirmed Hill’s recommendation to “come out,” quoting Quentin Crisp, “Wake up tomorrow as if everybody already knows.”

 Lisa and Teddy Lett expressed their love and support for their son, Alan. “This is a family issue,” Mrs. Lett told the audience.

MormonsCan Rev. David Keyes represented a cadre of leaders from Houston’s religious community, who stood with him behind the podium as he expressed anger at other members of the clergy, especially the Mormon Church, for their support of inequality. According to The Advocate, as much as $17.67 million was contributed by 59,000 Mormon families to support the passage of California’s Prop 8. Additionally, Mormons contributed $6.9 million to pass Arizona’s Proposition 102, a similar law denying marriage rights to gay men and lesbians.

 “What motivates other clergy is not fear,” Rev. Keyes said, “it’s patriarchy.”

 Houston attorney John Nechman implored the crowd to not be discouraged by temporary obstacles to full equality. “Our nation’s most gifted lawyers are working right now,” he said, to overturn unjust legislation. “Before every civil rights victory, there were setbacks,” Nechman added, emotionally vowing to the crowd that, before he died, he would legally marry his partner “on these very steps of City Hall.”

Meghan and Lindsay Baker, high school sweethearts who were married August 11 in California, spoke tearfully about the ramifications of Proposition 8 on the fate of their union. The Bakers, along with Mark Eggleston and Darrin Brindle, also speakers at the Houston rally, were among the 18,000 same-sex couples who were legally married in California this past summer and fall; the validity of their marriages is now in question.

 Jerry Simoneaux, attorney and founder of the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality which organizes Houston’s mass same-sex wedding ceremony each February, recalled the words of slain civil rights leader, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 Near the end of the Houston rally, openly gay musicians and partners Jason and deMarco were joined by Alan Lett in an a capella version of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

 Stop the lies, stop the hate! Equal marriage—gay or straight!”

 Rallies were also held November 15 in Texas’ larger cities, including Dallas and San Antonio. In Austin, Paige Schilts, media director for Soulforce, a national social justice and civil rights organization, gathered with a crowd numbering more than 1,000 in front of the Texas State Capitol Building to protest passage of nationwide antigay legislation.

 “I was bitterly disappointed and hurt by the passage of Prop 8 and other antigay ballot measures across the country,” Schilts said. “Because my wife and I were one of the thousands of gay and lesbian couples to be married in California this year, it felt personal—but then it always does.” To temporarily ease her pain, Schilts said she did what she always does, turn to musical inspiration. “Hearing Mavis [Staples] sing ‘We Shall Not Be Moved’ reminded me that, if Barack can be elected president, then LGBT people can achieve equality in my lifetime.”

 Elsewhere, gay and straight celebrities, including comedian Wanda Sykes, joined the ranks of protesters in the nationwide demonstrations. At a marriage equality rally held that afternoon in Las Vegas, Sykes surprised and thrilled the crowd, stating, “I’m proud to be a black woman and I’m proud to be gay.” Sykes said she had married her partner on October 25, shortly before California voters passed Proposition 8. “When my wife and I leave California, I want to have my marriage also recognized in Nevada, in Arizona, all the way to New York. How can you stop people from loving each other?” Sykes said, according to Internet reports.

 Actress Patricia Heaton, noted for her outspoken conservativism, also said she opposed Proposition 8. “I have a lot of friends who are gay, who are parents, and need to be able to take care of their kids and take care of each other, and they need to have those rights,” said the former Everybody Loves Raymond star.

 Singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge reasoned that, as a California citizen denied full equality, she should not be required to pay full taxes in the state where she and her partner, Tammi Lynn Michaels, live with Etheridge’s two children.

 “There is a lot I can do with the extra half a million dollars that I will be keeping instead of handing it over to the state of California,” Etheridge wrote in her blog at thedailybeast.com.

 “What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want them? Now!”

 Following the November 4 election, Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement that the passage of  Proposition 8 “broke our hearts, but it did not end our fight. Wherever you are, tell a neighbor what the California Supreme Court so wisely affirmed: that you are equal, you are human, and that being denied equality harms you materially,” Solmonese continued. “Although I, like our whole community, am shaken by Prop 8’s passage, I am not yet ready to believe that anyone who knows us as human beings and understands what is at stake would consciously vote to harm us.”

 In contrast to the outcry of protest against the passage of antigay legislation in four states on November 4, the state of Connecticut began granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples on November 12. An October decision by that state’s Supreme Court found barring gays and lesbians from marrying to be unconstitutional.

 Only Connecticut and Massachusetts recognize marriage equality for same-sex couples. The states of New Hampshire, Vermont, and Oregon recognize civil unions and domestic partnerships.

 [Note: to see more photos from the rally protest, see the laid-out story pp. 32-35 in the OutSmart web flipbook, right side of webpage.]

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