A county judge in Dallas, Texas, is making waves in the headlines for her policies regarding performing marriage ceremonies. Tonya Parker, thought to be the first openly gay African-American elected official in Texas, is refusing to perform marriage ceremonies for straight couples until gay couples are secured the same right.
Parker argues that she will not conduct these heterosexual-only marriage ceremonies because it is an “unequal application of the law. Period,” according to the Dallas Voice. She also believes doing so would be hypocritical to her own identity, as she would not be afforded the same marriage ceremony with the partner of her choice.
Parker goes on to note that when couples come to her to be married, she quickly helps them find another judge at the courthouse to perform the ceremony instead. Yet, before turning them away, she takes the opportunity to explain why she refuses to perform the ceremony, bringing the inequalities of the current Texas marriage law to light in a relatable way for heterosexual couples. She hopes to use her public position to raise awareness of LGBT rights and ensure LGBT persons in Texas feel equal in her courtroom.
Parker’s unprecedented actions are garnering attention of Sean Hannity and other conservative pundits. Parker’s politically charged stance comes at a time when issues of gay marriage and other similar topics are entering the forefront of the Republican primary debate. Texas in particular seems to have trouble swallowing the idea of LGBT rights. Our own governor warned of President Barack Obama’s supposed “war on religion” and, in a now-famous video, bemoaned that “gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas.”
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum seems to have waged his own metaphorical war on Americans with differing opinions than his own. Since his surge from behind in the primary race, his very conservative opinions have entered the mainstream, transforming the Republican primary race into one focused on social issues instead of the economy or foreign policy. Santorum, who promises to invalidate gay marriage and reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as president, believes same-sex relationships do not benefit society and thus these relationships should not be awarded the “privilege of marriage.”
While there are many reasons to fear the future for LGBT rights and the fight for equal marriage rights, there are also many reasons to rejoice the progress being made. Numerous states around the U.S. have recently legalized same-sex marriage, including Washington and, soon, Maryland. California recently overturned Proposition 8 when an appeals court found it unconstitutional.
Texas itself is making progress toward ensuring LGBT equality, including the activism of Judge Parker, and Houston’s election of the U.S.’s first openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, in 2009. Furthermore, the UT campus has created a safe environment for all students with features such as the Gender and Sexuality Center, the Queer Student Alliance and the Gay Business Students Association.
Messages like Parker’s are vital to our society because they bring to light human rights violations in our country. Her stand against performing heterosexual marriages is not to demonstrate contempt toward a particular group, but rather to promote the equal rights for all groups. Parker is well aware that her position gives her a greater platform to spread her opinions. Her brave actions should be esteemed and simulated around the country by other people in positions of power in order to further the cause of marriage equality.
Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.