Oh, well. I guess I won’t be sneaking off to Massachusetts to get gay-married any time soon. Even though I didn’t have a marriage prospect in mind—or even a first date lined up—the thought of coming back to Texas on my fictional gay honeymoon did have a certain appeal to it. But now I’m second-guessing it all: I mean, really, would anybody in their right mind get married if there was no chance of ever getting divorced?
But if you’re gay in Texas, forget about divorcing a spouse-gone-wild (or just gone sour). That’s what the three Republicans on the Texas 5th Court of Appeals made clear on Tuesday. The judges ruled that District Judge Tena Callahan, a Democrat, did not have the jurisdiction to grant a divorce to two Dallas men, identified as J.B. and H.B., who got hitched in Massachusetts in 2006 and moved to Texas in 2008 before deciding to part ways.
But the judges didn’t stop with a ruling about jurisdiction. In a week that’s featured a sudden burst of strange and unwelcome news for gay Texans—all of it featuring Republicans—the Texas 5th took the prize for ideological overkill.
The court’s opinion did not begin and end with the interesting question of whether a district judge in Texas, a state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage (wouldn’t know it if it hit us in the face!), could grant a gay divorce. “A person does not and cannot seek a divorce without simultaneously asserting the existence and validity of a lawful marriage,” wrote Judge Kerry P. Fitzgerald in his opinion, which you can read in full here. In a nutshell, the judges shot down the “existence and validity” of a gay marriage in Texas from every possible angle.
As Fitzgerald also wrote, the court considered “whether Texas’s marriage laws are rationally related to the goal of promoting the raising of children in households headed by opposite-sex couples. We conclude that they are. Because only relationships between opposite-sex children can naturally produce children, it is reasonable for the state to afford unique legal recognition to that particular social unit in the form of opposite-sex marriage. … The legislature could reasonably conclude that the institution of civil marriage as it has existed in this country from the beginning has successfully provided this desirable social structure and should be preserved.”
Preserved how, exactly? The “preservation of marriage,” of course, is a pure, 100-percent, Grade A religious-right talking point—right up there with the mystical phrase “sanctity of marriage.” It’s a go-to line for the likes of the Concerned Women of America, who can offer nothing but the squishy sentiment of privilege and fanciful slippery-slope scenarios (legal bestiality can’t be far behind!) when arguing against gay marriage. They cannot answer the question: How will recognizing gay marriage fail to help “preserve marriage”? Or this one: What would it mean, actually, to “preserve” marriage—merely the preservation of a special privilege for straight people?
No matter. The court wholeheartedly agreed with Attorney Gen. Greg Abbott, who had appealed Callahan’s ruling of October 2009, he said, in order “to defend the traditional definition of marriage that was approved by Texas voters.” The Massachusetts marriage, said Abbott and the judges, could not be recognized—but it could be dissolved by being “voided.”
Voided. Nice! Like it never happened.
The ruling may be appealed to the state’s equally Republican Supreme Court. And there’s another case awaiting another set of state appeals judges—this time in Austin, where a district judge granted a divorce earlier this year to two women who were also hitched in Massachusetts. (How much money is the Massachusetts wedding industry making off of gay Texans, one wonders?) So this part of the story’s not over. And neither, we’ve also recently discovered, is the gay-bashing habit of Texas’ governor.
When AG Abbott referred to “Texas voters” having weighed in on the definition of marriage, he was referring to Rick Perry’s favorite constitutional improvement—the gay-marriage ban passed in 2005.
Perry has been uncharacteristically quiet on gay issues during his latest re-election campaign, as he faces Democrat Bill White. But he let loose last Thursday, at a barbecue joint in Temple. The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey captured the governor proving that he hadn’t lost his knack for gay-baiting. As he extolled his favorite subject, the supposedly bullet-proof Texas economy, Perry went there:
“There is still a land of opportunity, friends—it’s called Texas,” Perry said. “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”
Forget the many studies showing that places that are friendly toward gays—seeing them as part of a “creative class”—are better off economically. Perry, as he has demonstrated so often, answers to a higher logic.
And so do Sen. John Cornyn and Congressman Pete Sessions, it appears. But their higher logic is lucre.
The heads of their party’s Senate and House campaign committees, respectively, Cornyn and Sessions have reportedly accepted invitations to a Log Cabin Republican dinner—honoring former anti-gay RNC chair Ken Melhman, who recently came out as a former self-loathing homosexual—in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 22.
One of the Log Cabineers’ top agenda items is legalizing gay marriage. Which makes the two Texas lawmakers’ appearances seem odd, especially when you consider that they’ve both been loyal GOP soldiers whenever gay people were being debated or voted on. Both have been awarded “0” ratings from the Human Rights Campaign.
So why would these two leading gay-rights opponents—Republicans from a state where gay people can’t even get divorced, and the governor can’t stop bashing them—attend such a function? Because their job is to raise campaign cash. While marriage might be reserved for certain people, and while gays might make a handy punching-bag when you want to throw some red meat at the hardcore right-wing folk out there, money is money. Priorities are priorities.