On July 5, 2012, Mark “Major” Jiminez and his fiancé, Beau Chandler, entered the Dallas County Clerk’s office intent on obtaining a marriage license. Texas, like many other states, outright bans issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Any official who issues a license to a same-sex couple can face misdemeanor criminal charges. In fact, Texas is so determined to undermine the rights of its citizens, the Texas GOP Platform seeks to change the penalty for issuing a license from a misdemeanor offense, to a felony.
This isn’t the only manner in which the state targets same-sex family units and allies to the LGBT community. For example, Major and Beau, upon being denied the marriage license they sought, handcuffed themselves together, took a seat on the floor of the Clerk’s office and refused to leave without a marriage license. Their act was a protest of the ban on same-sex marriages under Texas law. Unfortunately for Major and Beau, rather than receiving a marriage license, they received a second set of handcuffs, a police escort from the building and engagement photos in the form of mugshots. The couple was charged with “criminal trespass,” a Class B Misdemeanor.
After being released on bond, Major stated:
We are now facing a $2,000.00 fine and a jail sentence of 180 days. But I stand before each and every one of you and tell you that I would spend 181 days in jail as an unjust penalty for trying to marry the man I love and as soon as I got out I would start the process over again. We will be married.
Following up on the stiff penalties faced by Major and Beau, GetEQUAL, which provided support to the couple through its Texas chapter, issued a statement condemning the charges, “Normally political arrests are treated as a class C misdemeanor, where individuals are punished with a $250.00 fine.” (Note: Class C misdemeanors can result in a maximum fine of $500.00 in Texas.)
To further the insult and injury to Mark and Beau, the Texas Court has ordered them to appear in two different courtrooms at the same time on August 2, 2012, which will likely result in the need for a second defense lawyer and double the legal expenses and court costs. According to Major, this move will also make it, “impossible for us to be there to support one another as we stand before a judge to be sentenced for just trying to get married. And that will also divide our friends who will be there to physically support us.” Major requests the community help, by joining them on Facebook at the “Free Major and Beau” event page.
In the debates surrounding marriage equality, advocates often cite the roughly 1138 federal benefits of marriage that a spousal relationship creates. These benefits range from bankruptcy protections, rights and liabilities, to social security benefits. However, little focus is placed on state law benefits of marriage.
One such benefit is something Major and Beau might like to invoke at this juncture, the “spousal communication privilege.” Generally, under Rule 504 of the Texas Rules of Evidence, a communication is considered confidential if it was made privately between any person and their spouse. While there are some exceptions to that rule (such as divorce cases and communications intended to commit fraud or a crime), when asked about such communications in court, a witness or party can refused to answer the question under this privilege. However, in the case of same-sex couples who are prohibited from marrying, the rule cannot and does not apply, and refusing to answer a question under the rule could result in contempt of court charges.
There are numerous situations wherein a spouse enjoys such automatic rights and privileges with the filing of their marriage license with the Clerk’s office. Unfortunately, until marriage equality exists in every state and at the federal level, the “special rights” provided to married couples will remain out of reach for same-sex couples. These legislative exclusions and attacks on same-sex families make it difficult not to side with the opinion that the charges faced by Major and Beau are elevated in an effort to silence the LGBTQ community of Texas. But according to a recent release from GetEQUAL TX, they have no intention of being silenced, but instead have called upon the community to take action similar to that of Major and Beau.
Image via GetEQUAL Texas
Jay Morris is a State Lead for GetEQUAL.org, a founding member of the Direct Action Network San Antonio and blogger at jaysays.com. You can find him posting randomness on Twitter or engage him in conversation on Facebook.
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