Recognizing that same-sex marriage in Texas is no longer a distant dream, Equality Texas is gearing up to help make it a reality.
In addition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, 2013 saw the number of states with marriage equality double — from nine to 18.
The year culminated in back-to-back victories for marriage equality in neighboring New Mexico and then, in one of the least likely places, Utah.
To harness this momentum in the Lone Star State, Equality Texas is partnering with the national group Freedom to Marry to launch a new project called Why Marriage Matters Texas, which will focus on storytelling as a way of changing hearts and minds.
“For the first time in a long time, marriage in Texas is moveable,” said Daniel Williams, field organizer for Equality Texas. “The public opinion is shifting our way. This is something we can actually dedicate resources to and have a realistic expectation of having results. We’re gearing up to work in a concrete way to bring the freedom to marry to Texas.”
Williams said while recent polls show a steady increase in support for marriage equality among Texas voters, much of the shift has been due to an increase in the number of young people, non-native Texans and Hispanics.
“If we’re going to be able to push the changes in public opinion beyond demographic shifts, we’re going to have to go and talk to people about why our marriages matter, in the language of emotion and the language of human relationships,” Williams said. “You can spit statistics to people all day long, but what changes people’s hearts and minds are personal stories of people affected by the issues.”
Williams said Equality Texas has become effective over the years at killing anti-LGBT legislation, but in the 2013 legislative session, the organization proved it can also move pro-equality legislation forward, with three bills clearing committee. On the marriage equality front, previous sessions have typically seen just one bill, from Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, seeking to repeal the state’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. But this year’s session saw multiple bills in both the House and Senate aimed at undoing not only the constitutional ban, but also statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriage. One House bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the event the constitutional amendment is repealed garnered a dozen co-sponsors.
“That’s an incredible amount of movement in two years, to go from one person being outspoken on the issue to more than a dozen,” Williams said. “Next session, we’re expecting a lot more.”
Williams also refuted the notion that because marriage equality is likely to come to Texas through a federal court ruling, the community shouldn’t bother pursuing legislative remedies. He said every civil rights movement in history has relied on a combination of the the legislature, the courts and public opinion.
“The Legislature, the courts and public opinion are all interrelated,” Williams said. “You can’t work just one.”
In fact, one of the functions of Why Marriage Matters Texas will be to educate people about pending litigation in Texas, which currently has at least seven active cases related to the state’s marriage bans. They include two same-sex divorce cases that are before the Texas Supreme Court, three cases directly challenging the marriage bans in federal court, and two cases related to whether same-sex partner benefits in Houston.
“These things are going to be in the news, and people are going to talking about them around the dinner table and the water cooler, so there needs to be a broader public conversation that accompanies the court cases,” Williams said.
Equality Texas is trying to raise $5,000 to launch Why Marriage Matters Texas in the first quarter of 2014. To contribute, go here.
— John Wright