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On Sept. 8, two months before Washington state voters passed a referendum legalizing same-sex marriage, Marley Blonsky married the woman she had fallen in love with, Whitney Young.
“Right now, I call her my wife. But she’s not,” Blonsky said.
The September ceremony in front of about 200 friends and family in Sequim, Washington was about a personal bond between two people, planned a year in advance. Technically, the state and federal government didn’t recognize their marriage, only the “domestic partnership” that Blonsky and Young entered into last year.
“It was really scary because they had released some results that said it had failed (at 8 p.m.),” Blonsky said, “People were quiet or crying – then someone’s phone got an update … then everyone’s phone started updating.”
Though results were still trickling in the following day, the ballot was called in favor of same-sex marriage and the party was moved from conference rooms, living rooms and bars to the streets.
“What can I really say about Tuesday night? I live in a city that was so collectively overjoyed by the extension of basic human freedoms, we had to take to the streets and share it with one another…There were people dancing, kissing and just content in the knowledge that we did it.
“I can only imagine that this was a small taste of what the (protesters) of the ’60s felt … an unshakable notion that we were right, that we were winning, this indescribable sensation that our energy would carry us through and our victory would come by sheer momentum. This is the America that the (founders) fought for, solidarity not as whites or blacks or queers or straights or stoners or squares … but as Americans.”
— An email from a dear friend of mine, Johnny Dwyer.
I wish I could have been there. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community know how to throw a party. Hugging, music, dancing, booze, smiling and kissing right there on the streets of Capitol Hill, the unofficial center of the LGBTQ and “counterculture” (which I think is a professional’s word for “hipster”) communities close to downtown Seattle.
I received deep looks of concern and wonder when I told friends and family in Colorado, where I was born and raised, and Washington State, where I attended college and lived before moving to San Antonio, that I was moving to Texas.
This election cycle helps illustrate why my loved ones’ furrowed their brows at my decision. My former home states both made big news on Election Day: Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of marijuana. More importantly, same-sex marriage was legalized in Washington, Maine and Maryland through ballot initiatives rather than a court case.
From the outside – at least within my home-state networks – Texas still conjures several negative images, mostly stereotypes reinforced by individuals such as Gov. Rick Perry. Some people still think Texas is running wild with racist cowboys, Confederate flags, and a 1950s homophobic-gun-on-hip-10-gallon-hat-a-woman’s-place-is-the-kitchen-ultra-conservative throwback culture.
These assumptions are, of course, unfair. Take yourself, for instance: See? Not so bad at all – I’m willing to bet that none of you are even close to resembling that remark. However, stereotypes aside, Texas is still many years away from solid gains in this arena of civil rights.
In 2003, “homosexual conduct” was still a class C misdemeanor offense in Texas (Penal Code Sec. 21.06.). And actually, it still technically is.
The code still states: “A person commits an offense if he engages in deviant sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex. That’s right: it’s been almost a decade since the supreme court found the law unconstitutional in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 123 S. Ct. 2472 and the Republican-dominated Legislature still won’t repeal the section.
We can’t even muster the civil-rights strength to clean up a penal code that’s already been found unconstitutional. It may be a long time before same-sex marriage is legal in Texas, or maybe not. Was last Tuesday’s four-state sweep the beginning of the end for states opposing gay marriage?
“I can’t imagine living there (in Texas) as a gay woman,” said Blonsky, who was raised in Fort Worth until her family moved to Washington when she was 11.
Now 26, she works for a shipping and logistics company that frequently requires her to make trips to El Paso – trips that remind her to be careful who she’s open with about her sexuality in Texas, she says.
“I can’t say for the whole state,” she said, “But I don’t tell people I’m gay (in El Paso).”
Texas is hardly devoid of a gay-rights movement – nor is it the only state legislature that is still struggling to (or refusing to) keep up with emerging societal norms.
The Texas Democratic Party platform “opposes attempts to deny the freedom to marry to same sex couples” and has been following through on this statement by introducing bills that would: repeal the definition of marriage as “only of the union of one man and one woman,” allow recognition of marriages, domestic partnerships and civil unions and add sexual orientation to the list of employment discrimination protections. The latter of which was co-authored by Rep. Mike Villarreal (D-San Antonio), all of which are pending review in committee (where most bills go to die).
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There are several advocacy groups in Texas, and in San Antonio, currently working for LGBTQ rights and support: Texas Equality, Human Rights Campaign (San Antonio Steering Committee), American Veterans for Equal Rights (San Antonio Chapter), Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians & Gays (PFLAG) of San Antonio and the San Antonio Gender Association just to name a few. And last year, Austin City Council announced its official endorsement of same-sex marriage.
According to a 2010 poll conducted by the University of Texas and The Texas Tribune, “fewer than a third of Texans oppose both civil union and marriage for gays and lesbians,” but, “35 percent would allow civil unions but not marriage.” A big “but” when it comes to deciding the legal definition of someone’s relationship. Civil unions and domestic partnerships are not sufficient substitutes for marriage. There isn’t one.
There is also a lot of progress to be made on the federal level. The real fight will be next year in the U.S. Supreme Court.
But doesn’t it feel weird that we’re even talking about this?
“It seems really barbaric that we’re still voting on the civil rights of others, ” Blonsky said.
Maybe it’s just my generation and political bias, but doesn’t it seem like we should be beyond this issue already? When do we get to look back at these debates and be embarrassed over how long it took to achieve equality?
On Dec. 9 – about one month after the initiative passed – Marley Blonsky will marry the woman she loves, Whitney Young, once again. Only this time, she said, “I’m thankful to live in a state that respects and sanctions my relationship.”