When Roy Treadway and his longtime partner John Corpus heard about a group wedding to be held in the Stockyards on Dec. 13, they decided to apply for one of the 100 available spaces.
“I thought it was a cute idea,” said Treadway, 64, a retired Fort Worth teacher. “John and I have been together since 1989 and never married, and the idea of sharing vows with 99 other couples on the lawn of the Livestock Exchange Building sounded perfect for us.”
Unfortunately, he said, when he called the contact number for the event, he was told that same-sex couples would not be allowed.
“We were later told that if we could produce a valid Texas marriage license, we would be permitted to join the ceremony, but no county clerk in Texas will issue one,” Treadway said. “When we asked if a New Mexico marriage license — which allows gay and lesbian marriages — would be acceptable, we were told no again, only a Texas license would do.”
What Treadway and Corpus had run up against is one of the last huge political hurdles for the LGBT community. While more and more states have moved to allow gay and lesbian marriages with all of the political and personal protections they afford, Texas and 30 other states have not.
Treadway and Corpus, a 54-year-old retired banker, thought that Fort Worth’s anti-discrimination ordinance might come into play, particularly if the lawn in front of the Livestock Exchange Building was city property. That ordinance forbids discrimination on various grounds, including sexual preference.
Unfortunately, the ordinance doesn’t apply in this case, said Veronica Villegas, spokesperson for the Human Relations Unit of the Fort Worth Human Rights Commission.
“I don’t want to speak about this specific case,” said Villegas, “because the couple has not filed a complaint with us, and we have not looked into it. But in general, when someone rents a space for a private event, they get to say who is invited.”
Villegas pointed to the recent Republican Party state convention in Fort Worth. “The LGBT branch of the Republican party wanted a booth at the convention,” she said. “When they were denied, they filed a complaint that we took seriously. Our legal department concluded that even though the convention was being held on property owned by the City of Fort Worth, it was a private event, and so they had the right to exclude or include whomever they wanted.
“The same would hold true if you wanted to get married at the Botanic Gardens. You rent the space and get to invite the guests you want.”
The lawn in front of the Livestock Exchange Building is private property, said Brad Hickman of Hickman Companies, a major property owner in the Stockyards.
The Texas Constitution, under an amendment passed in 2005, defines marriage as between a man and a woman. That law has been challenged by two couples from Plano and Austin. In February, U.S. District Court Judge Orlando Garcia of San Antonio ruled that the amendment violates the equal-protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.
However, Garcia stayed the effect of his ruling until the expected appeal by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott could be decided. The case is due to be heard this fall by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans and after that by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In some states, when bans on gay marriage were struck down, county clerks started issuing licenses to same-sex couples right away.
“But that is only legal when a federal court struck down the ban on gay marriages but did not order a stay,” said David Henderson, president of Fairness of Fort Worth, an organization dedicated to ensuring that “everyone is treated fairly, with dignity and respect.” The group was formed in the aftermath of the infamous Rainbow Lounge raid here in 2009.
Henderson pointed out that gay and lesbian couples regularly get married on city property like the zoo or Botanic Gardens, and the city had no problem with that. “But those are just ceremonial marriages, because none of those people have valid Texas marriage licenses. The issue is going to remain unsettled until the Supreme Court makes a decision on country-wide marriage standards,” he said.
While a huge shift has taken place in recent years regarding same-sex marriages, Texas has maintained much of its anti-LGBT community sentiment, said Rafael McDonnell, communications and advocacy director for the Dallas Resource Center.
“Things are better now in Texas than they were five years ago, and in Fort Worth the anti-discrimination ordinance is making things better, particularly for young people, with anti-bullying teaching and anti-discrimination education.
“But until the marriage ban [question] is settled nationally,” he said, marriages from the 19 states that allow gay marriage “will not be recognized in the 31 that do not.”
Treadway and Corpus would have loved to be married in the Stockyards, in part because the local LGBT community regards the Stockyards as a place where they have traditionally faced a lot of discrimination. In 2009, Queer LiberAction, a Dallas-Fort Worth grassroots organization that advocates for LGBT rights, staged a “queer kiss-in” at the Stockyards to highlight the area’s homophobia. Hub Baker, longtime manager of the Cowtown Coliseum, said at the time that he wasn’t in favor of it — though he later changed his statement to say that he wasn’t in favor of anyone kissing in public.
Sarah McClellan-Brandt, marketing director for Stockyards Station, wrote in an e-mail that she had no problem personally with Treadway and Corpus taking part in the upcoming 100-couple marriage ceremony. The event will include the announcing of each couple’s names, a toast, and a certificate memorializing the occasion.
“Any couple that produces a legal Texas marriage license is absolutely welcome to participate,” she said.
“That’s the catch,” said Treadway. “No county clerk in the state will provide one to us.”