By Rick Rose
Mark Reed-Walkup and his partner Dante Walkup made headlines for conducting their marriage ceremony via Skype with the couple in Texas and the minster in Washington, D.C. They were subsequently informed the marriage would not be honored, and had that disappointment compounded by the refusal of the Dallas Morning News to run their announcement. As it turned out, vindication was theirs, at least in part. Our own Rick Rose became friends with the couple through Mark’s niece Shanna. He caught up with Mark on the day their marriage announcement finally ran in the Dallas paper. Here they share their interview with you.
RR: How did you first meet and did you know he was “the one” for you?
MRW: I spotted Dante on the dance floor, dancing by himself, so full of life, self-confidence and thought he was the most handsome man in the world. We became best friends at first but on a trip to P-town together 11 years ago, we fell deeply in love and that trip changed our lives forever.
RR: Was the thought of marriage even an option then?
MRW: We never thought marriage would be an option in our lifetime. Same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere at that time.
RR: At what point did you decide to marry? Who asked who and how?
MRW: When we became partners, we created commitment vows that we would strive for in our relationship. One of those vows was to have “fun at fifty”, so when we turned 50, we decided it was time. I asked Dante to be my husband on a very romantic trip to New Orleans.
RR: When was the first time you felt discrimination in your journey to marry and what emotions were evoked?
MRW: We tried to submit our wedding announcement to the Dallas Morning News and were denied because of the ban on same-sex marriage in Texas. I had to go before a county judge to get a court-ordered name change because of the ban.. Discrimination has a very negative emotional impact every time you experience it. Its hurts, it’s degrading and it makes us both very angry at the way our community is mistreated and disrespected.
RR: How and why did you decide to marry in Texas using a Washington, DC clergy?
MRW: We’d been together for 10 years and had long intended to wait until marriage equality came to our state, but as we moved into our 50s we realized that time was still a long way off. Then Dante was in an automobile accident and our experience at the hospital put things into perspective. You can read all the details in an article I wrote after the wedding.
MRW: We received a letter from the D.C. marriage bureau 6 weeks after receiving our marriage certificate. It was the day before Thanksgiving and it was devastating to us both. After so many legal analysts agreed we had found a loophole, they closed it and annulled our marriage without even attempting to contact us to confirm the “news” they read about was true.
RR: When you placed the announcement in the paper, did you expect the response you got?
MRW: Their 2003 policy still in affect allowed same sex couples to place engagement and anniversary announcements. It also allowed couples to place commitment announcements, which were seen as very progressive back at the time of their policy change. This change occurred before same sex marriage was legal anywhere. We fully expected them to place our wedding announcement because of their policy on engagement and anniversary ads. How could they allow those ads and not allow the announcement of the event itself? We assumed they would just update their policy again as Texas gay couples can get married elsewhere.
RR: How did it feel when you were vindicated and the ruling came down in your favor with the paper?
MRW: We were encouraged that the city agreed there was a possible case of discrimination when they launched the formal investigation. Once the Dallas Morning News responded via their legal team and had no interest in mediation, we directly reached out the CEO and asked for a meeting to try and work out this issue. We met with them twice and at the second meeting they agreed to make a change to their policy because as the CEO stated, “it was the right thing to do.”
RR: Why does anti-lgbt discrimination exist in 2011 and what is the basis for it? How might anyone reading this help use move forward?
MRW: Certainly religion has played a large role in the hatred felt by many toward our community as it has for other minority groups such as African Americans. Insecure people often fear the “unknown” and enjoy having a sense of power over people. Many homophobic people are also very insecure with their own sexual identity and express their hatred about gay people so others won’t think they are gay themselves. Thankfully, attitudes toward gay people are changing because so many people have come out of their closets and shared their true lives with their friends and families. The number one motivator for us to fight the Dallas Morning News was how it important it is for people to read stories about loving committed same-sex couples. We know that when people see that we are really no different than other committed couples, their attitudes will often change about gay people. We also wanted gay youth be able to see that marriage is possible and it might give them hope for their future.
RR: Projecting positively in the future, when do you think Texas will pass same-sex marriage, and if elected for a second term, do you think Obama should AND/OR would lead to overturn DOMA (the federal Defense of Marriage Act)?
MRW: I believe marriage equality will come to Texas via a Supreme Court decision just as the Loving vs. Virginia case ended discrimination against inter-racial couples. If the Democrats take back the House and keep the Senate, we might have a shot of repealing DOMA if the Supreme Court hasn’t overturned it. DOMA is clearly unconstitutional now that a large population of citizens live in states where marriage equality exists. DOMA was passed in 1996 before same-sex marriages were legal anywhere in this country.
RR: Why do you continue with this fight?
MRW: We fight this fight because we don’t want the next generation to face discrimination and can live their lives to their fullest potential.
RR: With all your experience and vigor, what do you say to a new and young, say 21-year-old, member of the LGBT community…as far as what to expect and how to live, to make a difference?
MRW: We would say to them to be very proud of who you are and believe in yourselves. We have come such a long way in forty years and we need you to join the battle for full equality. You have a wonderful life ahead of you because of those who have fought hard for the rights we won to date. Do not accept discrimination at any level and learn know that one person can make a difference and help change the world to make it a better place for everyone.