Thursday, July 02, 2015

Onward through the fog

Esquire did its best to find out which of the 254 counties in Texas (I think I said there were 265 the other day; fact-checking is not my forte, and I regret the error.  I'm also not gonna chase it down and correct it) are not issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  Denton and Hood County have claimed national attention, largely because they are near big population areas (Denton is just north of the Dallas/Ft. Worth "metroplex," with a combined population larger than Houston's, Hood county just to the southwest of Ft. Worth/Tarrant County).

It turns out some 60 counties aren't issuing same-sex marriage licenses, most because they don't have forms suitable to the purpose.

Several conversations with county clerks and assistants also revealed that, while generic same-sex marriage application forms might have been sent to counties across the state (or not, as the case may be), marriage licenses, themselves, still used the gendered language of "Mr." and "Mrs." instead of "Applicant 1" and "Applicant 2."
And there's the ever popular "the computer program needs to be upgraded."   But whatever the excuse, only three counties refused to explain why they weren't issuing licenses; and interestingly, none of the counties have a population above 150,000 (Lubbock, at just under 300,000, is the exception that proves the rule).  Most of the counties, in fact, are under 50,000 in population.  I went to school with more students than that at UT-Austin.  I went to college in Nacogdoches with more students than in many of the smallest rural counties on the list.  The majority of the counties seem to be under 20,000.  This gives rise to a few thoughts.

One:  rural counties tend to be more conservative; not just politically, but in action generally.  They don't embrace social change rapidly, and they don't embrace bureaucratic change rapidly.  Change costs money, and most rural counties in Texas are operating on a shoestring, out of courthouses a century old that probably need to be torn down for all but historical reasons (don't get me started on some of the Texas courthouses that were torn down in the halcyon 50's to make way for modern monstrosities).

Two:  Texas doesn't have any laws banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.  Rural counties can be more forgiving than you might expect (people tend to be people in small towns, not categories like "gay" or "lesbian."  There was a documentary on PBS recently about a mayoral campaign in an East Texas town.  One candidate was gay, and his campaign manager, his nephew, had Down's Syndrome.  Nothing was made of any of this in the campaign.  The gay candidate lost because of conservatism, as in, keep the candidate we know (the incumbent mayor), not the one who promises to revitalize the town (by attracting tourists, which is what many small Texas towns are slowly learning to do).  Then again, they might prefer the "don't ask, don't tell" standard of living.   Same sex marriages in such places might be a bridge too far.  I mentioned my lesbian friend who died of cancer.  The church of her childhood shunned her, even in death, because she lived with (but couldn't marry) her partner.  Shunned her parents, too, lifelong members of the church.  It was ugly, but sadly it didn't surprise me.  That's not the whole story, because that county is one that is now issuing licenses to same-sex couples.  Not sure what the church is going to do with that, but I'm glad I don' have to find out.

You can see what a couple in a county of 1000 or even 20,000 might be up against.  They might not be anxious to marry, because social repercussions could easily become legal repercussions.

That saddens me, but I will note that Rick Scarbrough's home county, Nacogdoches, is issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.  So there's that.  And the change is gonna happen.  Maybe three counties will have to be forced to issue licenses; maybe not.  If someone is denied a license, that's undoubtedly bad.

But I don't think it will be that bad for that long, and in the end, that's good.

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