Married, Sort Of: The Legal Limbo of Being Gay and Married in Texas

Categories: Longform

Photos by Max Burkhalter
Jenn and Lizzie Wigle are wandering the halls of a bridal expo, searching more for ideas than products or services. Eventually they visit three of the events, looking at dresses, invitations, cake decorators and all the other trappings of the $40-billion-a-year American wedding industry.

Most of the vendors whom Jennifer and Elizabeth visit seem easygoing and accepting, but there is one scene that plays out over and over again with only minor variations among a significant minority of them.

"When are your dates?" a vendor asks, and Jenn and Lizzie both reply that it's going to be July 7, 2012. The event will be at a Crown Plaza hotel in Houston, which narrowly beat out Omni as a venue choice.

"Oh," the vendor says. "You'll be fighting each other for guests, ha-ha."

"No, we won't," Jenn replies. "It'll be all the same people because it's the same wedding. We're getting married."

"You're sisters having a double wedding?" the vendor asks. "That's so awesome."

"No," Jenn corrects for the dozenth time. "We're getting married. To each other."

"Oh," the vendor says, settling into an awkward silence. There's no open rudeness, just a deeply uncomfortable moment.

Ultimately Jenn and Lizzie don't get much out of the bridal expos except maybe a chance to show a few more people in the industry how little difference there is between a same-sex wedding and a heterosexual one. Their coordinator at the Crown Plaza handles most of the arrangements anyway once the couple picks out what they want. There's no awkwardness at the hotel. When Jenn mentions that their wedding is for two women, the coordinator tells her how they hosted a gay volleyball league just the week before.

All this for a grand Texas wedding, but does it count as getting married? No. Well, yes. Well, kind of, but not really. Sort of?

If you ask Jenn's home country of Canada, where she and Lizzie were part of a legally binding marriage ceremony in front of a justice of the peace and Jenn's friends and family who can't afford to make the trek to Texas, then they are absolutely married. Same-sex couples have had equal marriage rights in our northern neighbor for nearly a decade.

If you ask the U.S. government, then the answer is sort of. After the repeal of parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government recognizes all lawfully performed same-sex marriages as legitimate. Jenn and Lizzie can file joint federal income tax returns, for example.

On the other hand, if you ask Texas, the answer is no, and the federal government agrees. DOMA is still law, and states aren't required to recognize same-sex marriages even if the federal government does. For official Texas purposes, they aren't married.

A federal judge who recently struck down Texas's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage says Jenn and Lizzie are married, or rather, that they have a right to be under the 14th Amendment. However, the decision was stayed as similar cases percolate up toward a showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court.

It's a confusing time to be gay and married in the state of Texas.


Before 1973, no state specifically referred to an opposite-gender clause for residents applying for marriage licenses. It wasn't until two University of Minnesota students named Jack Baker and James McConnell applied for a license in 1971 that the question arose regarding what would happen when a same-sex couple dared to attempt legal marriage.

Baker v. Nelson (the case arising from the couple suing Hennepin County District Court Clerk Gerald Nelson for denying the license) reached all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with Nelson and denied Baker and McConnell the right to wed. Considerable media attention was given to the case nationwide, sparking much commentary on same-sex marriage and building a wave of anti-gay legislation. In 1973, Maryland became the first state to pass a law barring marriage between people of the same gender. By the time DOMA was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, establishing marriage as strictly between a man and a woman, nearly every state had joined Maryland, with Texas doing so in 1997 and adding a state constitutional amendment against it in 2005.

Three years after that, Hurricane Ike hit Houston and left much of the city powerless and dark. At a neighborhood gathering during the blackout, Daniel Bothwell met brian carlson. (carlson spells his name lowercase.) After four years of dating, Daniel and brian would elope to Niagara Falls in New York following the repeal of Section 3 of DOMA, the portion that defined marriage as hetero-only.

Leaving Texas to wed legally has become something of a rite of passage among our gay population. Mayor Annise Parker did so in January of this year when she went to Palm Springs, California, to wed her partner of 23 years, Kathy Hubbard. New York is a popular destination for a lot of reasons. There's no residency requirement, the marriage license fee is a modest $35 (less than half that of Texas), you need only a single witness and an officiant, and the wait time for processing is 24 hours. The whole thing fits well into a week of vacation.

It's also sort of symbolic. It was a New York case that led to DOMA's downfall. In 2013, the case of United States v. Windsor landed the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court as Edith Windsor sued the government, claiming she had been unfairly discriminated against regarding the ability to inherit her wife's estate tax-free upon her death. The couple had married in Toronto and were living in New York when Windsor's wife, Thea Spayer, died in 2009.

The Supreme Court agreed with Windsor and struck down the clause.

For other couples, the destination is more personal in nature. Naomi (nee Lofton) and Rachel Dvoretsky were planning a trip to New York City because they'd won an engagement photography session in a contest.

"We had a big wedding planned at the Houston Zoo," Naomi says. "It was a celebration for our family and friends, but part of me was still very 'meh' about it. I knew that to the state government, it meant nothing even if it meant a lot to us, but then the DOMA ruling came down and we were already going to New York, so we jumped at the chance to do it legally as well."

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Jenn Wigle
Jenn Wigle

Reversible Hopefully that will change soon. I find it so strange that you can have legal documents with different last names. It can get complicated with travel too.


As your article states, there IS a division within the State of Texas and throughout the US on homosexual marriage. Every State in the Union has voted against Homosexual marriage and every court seems determined to vote against the will of the people. It’s great that you feel the need to devote an article, based on your personal convictions, to homosexual marriage. The problem is that I didn’t see one interview with the opposing view. Are people really bigoted or are they really good Christian people who CANNOT accept the homosexual as an acceptable alternate lifestyle. Especially when it comes to adopting children, teaching children etc. You can keep writing articles and voicing the homosexual viewpoint, but no real debate or decisions will ever be made until we bring all of the real opinions together for interviews and debates. I’m not talking about “tea party” members or GOP supporters.

I’m talking about Mom and Dad. My uncle the reverend. My sister the Christian housewife. You can’t just write them off. These so called “bigots” are America.


Short answer - yes, some people really are bigoted. As for states in the union...Maine has gay marriage by popular vote. Maryland and Washington won by vote as well. Until you follow every section of the bible, you are bigoted for selecting one (while ignoring the others) to fit how you feel about gay people. For instance, are you comfortable with putting anyone who works on the Sabbath to death? If not, then you better take a look at the bible you're using to justify your discrimination.


@DylanRiceMandel "I’m talking about Mom and Dad. My uncle the reverend. My sister the Christian housewife. You can’t just write them off. These so called “bigots” are America."

THERE'S A SIMPLE TEST. Replace the word "homosexual" with "interracial" and see if it sounds bigoted.

"It’s great that you feel the need to devote an article, based on your personal convictions, to [Interracial] marriage. The problem is that I didn’t see one interview with the opposing view. "

Yep. Still bigoted, so you and your bigoted family go to hell.


@DylanRiceMandel "I’m talking about Mom and Dad. My uncle the reverend. My sister the Christian housewife. You can’t just write them off. These so called “bigots” are America."


It’s great that you feel the need to devote an article, based on your personal convictions, to [INTERRACIAL] marriage. The problem is that I didn’t see one interview with the opposing view. "


Kylejack topcommenter

@DylanRiceMandel You can have your opinions about gay marriage, but you don't get to impose that opinion on whether or not they can actually get married. Not for long, anyway. The end is nigh, bigots.



I could point out the position the bible presents. I don't think however you are interested in that. I think from your posting you are convinced that "It's your thing, do what you wanna do"

Bigotry by it's definition suggests any preconceived position without substantial factual support is bigotry.

Meaning in this instance, if you are strongly opposed to bible people and their beliefs because you don't agree, YOU have identified yourself as a bigot.


@cjptunes  I think your definition is a bit off. Bigot: "One who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ." It has nothing to do with factual support. I did not say that I was strongly opposed to Christians. I have a problem with people that use their beliefs to interfere with the rights of others and those that choose to believe only certain parts of the bible in order to discriminate against a certain group of people. There are so many things in the bible that get ignored while this one is used by many as a weapon.

Do you think that a man should be able to sell his daughter as a slave as outlined in Exodus 21:7? Do you think that it is okay to be near a woman when she is menstruating, despite the fact that Lev 15:19-24 (the same section that outlines homosexuality) says she is unclean and that you should not touch her? Lev. 25:44 also outlines slavery as okay. According to Lev 11:10, eating shellfish is also an abomination and yet many people have decided that is okay, but homosexuality is not (they both specifically say "abomination," so that makes little sense. Lev 19:27 states that you should not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard and people ignore that every single day - nobody cares. Lev 11:6-8 - touching the skin of a dead pig is not okay, but everyone loves football, so we can just ignore that one too. Lev 19:19 states that you should not plant two different crops in the same field and you don't see anyone trying to legislate against any farmers.

I see some inconsistency in the application of the words of the bible - specifically many that are in the same section as the part about homosexuality. I wonder how you might debate that there is not a definite attack happening to this specific group, since all of those other parts of the bible within the same section are so often ignored.


My husband and I were married last year in Des Moines. Unfortunately, we live in Texas and still can't change our names on the drivers' license because Texas doesn't recognize that...despite having valid Social Security cards with our married names on them.


Yet another great article, Jef!

One concern- one page 4, you say "The truly hard part is the same for heterosexual or homosexual couples: simply finding a child to adopt in the first place."

While I understand the implication here is finding an infant to adopt (which is becoming more difficult due to, as you mention, tightening of international laws regarding adoption, among other issues), there are a ton of children in the US foster care system who are waiting to be adopted. AdoptUSkids puts the number around 104,000 across the US and nearly 11,000 in Texas alone. It is a common misconception that there are more families wanting to adopt than there are kiddos who need to be adopted. 

I know this article isn't about foster adoption in Texas, but I also wouldn't want to see people get the wrong impression, either. 

Hanabi-chan topcommenter

@ChristineCB Excellent point Christine! I really wish people would look at adopting older kids as they are as much in need of a family as a baby.


@Hanabi-chan @ChristineCB There are also a lot of people over age 18 that aren't able to live independently due to disability, but they are able to be part of a family and make someone's home complete. 

JefWithOneF topcommenter

@ChristineCB A fair point. That was a direct quote from Hunt, and yes, we were talking babies at that point in our interviews. She did immediately go on to talk about adoption through the foster system, and all your stats are definitely correct. I was focusing more on the idea of "heterosexuals have a baby this way, homosexuals have a baby THIS way" for the narrative of the article, but now I wish I'd brought that up. Thank you for mentioning it, and I hope your comment leads someone to a child :)

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