With more and more states granting same-sex marriage rights to LGBT couples, it might be easy to think that federal gay marriage rights are right around the corner. But with the existence of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, making that critical leap from state recognition of married couples to federal recognition will be much more difficult. In Texas, which passed its own constitutional amendment denying state recognition of same-sex marriages, simply getting state recognition will be a huge battle for same-sex couples.
The Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality (FFME) was founded 10 years ago in Houston, and is celebrating its first decade this month. Barry Ouellette, president of FFME, says the group’s mission is to promote marriage rights for LGBT couples and educate the public about what that means and how it helps to stabilize same-sex relationships.
“Even in the gay community, I’m surprised how many people don’t understand the federal rights and protections that come with marriage,” says Ouellette. “From Social Security survivor’s benefits to medical and family leave for couples to adoption rights—all of [these benefits] are given to straight married couples, but not to gay [married] couples. . . . Most of us grow up and see our parents or other couples together, and, for some, we see the love and commitment they share,” he says. “And we want that, and we picture ourselves doing that, and everyone understands that desire. We just want to be free to love the person we want to love, and marry them.”
Ouellette explains that FFME’s goals don’t conflict with the goals of social conservatives in the U.S. who say same-sex marriage threatens traditional marriages. “If they want to protect the institution of marriage, I would think they would want people to get married,” he says. “Only about 51 percent of people [18 years and older] in the U.S. are married now, which is down from 72 percent in the ’60s. We can boost those numbers.”
He pointed to a growing acceptance of LGBT people and quoted a recent poll that says that more than half of Americans support same-sex marriage rights. The definition of marriage, he says, is evolving further away from its traditional origins, when it was mostly considered a financial and political transaction between wealthy families.
“There have been many different definitions of marriage over the centuries,” he says. “At one time, women were considered property after marriage and what they had went to their husbands. No one is saying we should preserve that part of marriage.”
The Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality has come a long way since its early years, says Jerry Simoneaux, a cofounder and organizer of the group. He says it started as a protest, pointing out the fact that immigration rights for straight married couples were not extended to gay couples. The lack of legal protections often meant that many bi-national couples were torn apart when one was deported, or placed a social and economic burden on one partner to support the other.
“We also wanted to showcase the different religions and how they were all in agreement that gay couples can be married, but the government was turning its back on these couples,” Simoneaux says.
In 2002, the group partnered with the National Freedom to Marry Week organizers, who typically choose the week between Valentine’s Day and President’s Day. In that first year, before Facebook and Twitter, Simoneaux and the other organizers relied on community bulletin boards, such as Brandon Wolf’s Lone Star Advocates group, Yahoo!, and other organizations. It also involved a lot of face-to-face networking to make the 2002 event a success.
“About 50 couples [took part in our wedding ceremony] that first year, and the media covered it, and we got a lot of publicity,” Simoneaux says.
The next year’s event brought a bomb threat, but since then the idea of same-sex marriage rights has gained traction across the U.S.
“We’ve come a long way since the bomb threats and protests,” Ouellette says. “Now when we march through downtown, people honk their horns for us, so it’s definitely improved. We have a lot more support from people.”
The FFME now wants to extend its outreach to gay student groups as a way to show that long-term same-sex relationships are possible.
“We have some couples who have been together for years, and we have them come in and talk with parents and kids about what those couples have been through and what makes a marriage,” Ouellette says.
The overall goal, however, is to keep pushing for same-sex marriage rights, especially for couples who can’t afford to have a lawyer draft documents giving each other rights that a federal civil marriage law would allow.
“Marriage is important for people who don’t have a lot of money, because of the federal rights they can get,” Ouellette says. “Even if someone doesn’t agree with the institution of marriage for gay people, they should support [the idea] that we have a right to protect our families and each other, as partners should.”
For more information about the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality and to volunteer, visit familymarriageequality.org or e-mail [email protected].
Timeline of Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality (FFME) Activities throughout the Past Decade:
2002 – FFME was founded and performed the first public same-sex wedding ceremony in Texas.
2003 – The FFME wedding ceremony was briefly interrupted by a bomb threat. Clergy from many different faiths presided.
2004 – The FFME protest at the Harris County Clerk’s Office in downtown Houston, with same-sex couples lining up to ask for marriage licenses, was met by opposition protesters.
2005 – Wedding ceremony and County Clerk’s Office protests and demonstrations continued. Other educational events were introduced.
2006 – Wedding ceremony, County Clerk’s Office protests, and other events continued.
2007 – Previous year’s events continued, and marchers participated in the Houston Pride Parade and Festival.
2008 – The beginning of a downtown march and demonstration from the County Clerk’s Office to Houston City Hall. Pride Parade float was built with the theme “All Families Are Equal.”
2009 – Wedding ceremony, County Clerk’s Office marriage license protest, downtown march and demonstration at City Hall, and other activities continued.
2010 – County Clerk’s Office marriage license protest, downtown march and demonstration at City Hall, and participation in the Pride festival.
2011 – County Clerk’s Office marriage license protest, downtown march and demonstration at City Hall, and RMCC Marriage Day.
2012 “Freedom to Marry Week” Events
Feb. 12 • 2 p.m.
10th Anniversary Texas’s
Big Gay Wedding
Couples who would like to get married can register at familymarriageequality.org and should arrive no later than 1 p.m. Ceremony starts at 2 p.m., with a reception following at Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, 2025 West 11th St.
Feb. 14 • 11:30 a.m.
Downtown Valentine’s Day Protest and March
Protest begins at 11:30 a.m. at the County Clerk’s Office, 201 Caroline St. Couples should arrive in time to apply for marriage licenses at noon. March through downtown to Houston City Hall, 901 Bagby St., immediately after the protest. Demonstration from 12:45 to 1:30 p.m. All are invited to participate in a mock-marriage ceremony. Protesters are encouraged to wear wedding attire for the march and demonstrations.
Josef Molnar is a frequent contributor to OutSmart.