Justice arrived Friday “like a thunderbolt” for same-sex couples ready to tie the knot. Or at least that’s how President Obama described the momentous Supreme Court marriage decision. Long before that case reached the high court, Plano couple Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes were engaged in a legal battle here in Texas. The pair are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Texas’ ban on gay marriage — a case that technically is still pending before the U.S. 5th circuit Court of Appeals. But with the Supreme Court’s decision, the couple’s November wedding in Dallas will go on regardless, cementing their 18-year-long relationship.
Vic Holmes is a retired Air Force Officer who served during the ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ era and his partner, Mark Phariss, is an attorney. The two spoke with host David Brown about their reactions to the recent SCOTUS ruling, their still-pending lawsuit and what love means to them.
The two could have traveled to Massachusetts in 2004, back when the state legalized same-sex marriage, but said they chose not to do so to protect Vic’s military career. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the policy barring LGBTQIA people from openly serving in the military — wasn’t repealed until 2010, which coincided with Vic’s retirement from military service.
“That was purely coincidental but it nevertheless coincided,” Mark said. “For us to get married in 2008, or before he retired from the air force, would have absolutely put at risk his military career and potentially his military pension. So as a result we definitely had to wait even though we talked about it.”
Mark said he and Vic decided to wait to look for wedding bands until after Vic retired from the military. Then the couple discussed marriage again.
“Then we discussed it and the more we’ve talked about the more we’ve decided we’re Texans and we wanted to wait and get married in Texas,” Mark said.
Vic and Mark said they didn’t want to wait until it was legal in the state to make a point, it was more about having their love and promise of commitment to each other recognized in their own community.
“Let’s say we did go to the other states that you could get married in,” Vic said. “When we returned to Texas, it’s still null and void… So really that wouldn’t be the point.”
The whole point behind marriage, Vic said, is that two people love each other and want to demonstrate that commitment to friends, family, the people in their community.
“To run off to a different community for us — you know everyone is different — but for us it felt like we would be going away from our community and not coming closer to it,” Vic said. “We wouldn’t really be doing anything to demonstrate our love for each other in front of everybody so much as well, we’ll just take the backroad… for us it just seemed wrong.”
Mark and Vic said they were in the airport, waiting, when the SCOTUS decision was issued. Every day there was potential for the final ruling, the two had bought a ticket to leave their shared home in Plano and fly to Austin to be with their co-plaintiffs and attorney in the case for a press conference.
“Initially when we saw it we couldn’t tell if we won because SCOTUS blog described it as a recognition decision not a rights and recognition decision. I kept sitting there, looking at the screen. Where are the rights? We’re not married out of state, where are the rights? And finally Vic read one of the paragraphs,” Mark said. “He’s choking up as he tried to read it but it was clear from that, that we won and we just broke down crying and hugged.”
Their wedding is set for November and is already in the planning process. They said former U.S. Representative Charlie Gonzalez (D- San Antonio) will officiate. The rings will be made with two diamonds from Mark’s father’s own wedding ring. Mark said when he passed away, his siblings and himself all received diamonds from the ring. Marks’ 5-year-old great-nephew Cathen will carry in the rings on two flags: one that flew over the U.S. Capitol on April 28th the date of their own lawsuit hearing, and the flag that flew over the Capitol last Friday when SCOTUS issued their recognition decision.
“I love Vic more than anything else in the world and I intend to live with him for the rest of my life,” Mark said. “Now will be able to get married in front of friends and families with all of the trimmings that go with weddings and have that relationship and that marriage recognized by the state of Texas. And it’s fantastic.”
Like with couples of any make, Mark and Vic said one one level nothing changes in their relationship once they tie the knot. But on another level, everything is deeper.
“What changes for any couple when they get married? Do they love each other anymore do they love each other any less? Do they change anything other than their names or where they live? They’re still the same two people who love each other,” Vic said. “But now there’s that public declaration of the love, the commitment, and it’s a public declaration that’s intentionally difficult to break because it’s something you don’t enter into lightly.”