The journey started with a computer screen, a pair of lines, one crossed out, another one moved around them. On July 5th, 2012, Mark "Major" Jimenez and Beau Chandler walked into the Dallas County Records Building to obtain a marriage license. There was one hurdle, immediately with which to contend.
"The first portion of it is all on computer and one side of it asks you to fill out information for the groom, and the other portion is for the bride," said Beau Chandler. "There's also a sheet of paper that you fill out for them to call your name up to the front of the line that has a spot listed for bride and groom. Of course we had two grooms."
There's no denying that. Beau and his intended partner Major are bearded, rugged and beefy. The typical "joke" of "Which one of you is the bride?" is not a question you dare ask either of these two.
"I just crossed out the portion that said 'bride' and wrote both of our names in the groom's slot."
That was not the first line they'd have to consider, or last hurdle they would have to clear, one day after the Fourth of July. After doing all the registration and paperwork, they waited their turn. Their turn never came.
At the counter, they were refused a license, then asked to step aside. They complied, taking a spot on the floor. "Each time the clerk said 'Next,' we would say 'We're next'. But they just moved the line around us. They took the next couple, and then the next couple, and then the next couple and gave them all their marriage licenses, while we sat there on the floor waiting," says Major.
They sat there, on the floor, handcuffed together, sitting down to take a stand. The line moved around and past them for the rest of the afternoon.
As the day wore on, the patience wore thin. Says Major, "At first I was mostly just glad we were making a stand. But then as they started to take couple after couple after couple around us, it started to piss me off."
While the clerk didn't waver, those gathered there seemed largely sympathetic with these two manly men on the floor, not just handcuffed but hand in hand. "Most of them were really quite supportive, " Beau noted, then continues, "They seemed a little bit surprised, almost as if they didn't know in Texas there was a law against us being able to get married." Texas is just one of 45 states where that holds true. It's also one of the states not currently offering job protection to the LGBT community.
The date they picked to appear at the Dallas County Records Building was not chance.
"We chose July 5th for a reason, because that was the day after Independence Day. You know, the Declaration of Independence, where we're all supposed to be created equal. We thought we'd make a stand saying that we are not created equal," says Major. Beau adds, "We're kind of using that to say that they are denying us our life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
The day ended with the arrest of both Major and Beau for Criminal Trespass, when they refused to leave the premises without a marriage license in hand. They face a maximum $2000 fine, and the threat of 180 days jail time each. A court date was set for August 2nd, another date that while coincidence, had significant meaning. "It just so happens that our court date comes on the date that that Declaration of Independence was signed," says Beau.
This wasn't just two men's sweeping romantic gesture for one another. For Beau and Major, who has a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction, this was something bigger. They quickly talk of Rosa Parks, as they often do, on this matter of civil disobedience. Major retells her story, and the parallels to a bus driver drawing a line on a bus, and a county clerk moving a line in Dallas, are poignant and clear.
"She was sitting on the spot behind the line where it said 'Colored people.' But as the bus got more filled up, they moved the line behind her and they told her to move. And during that time, she said, 'I've had enough. I'm not gonna do it. I'm tired of this.' And that's basically how we feel about this. We're tired of it too."
"I admire her bravery. There she was, by herself. She took a stand. She had nobody there to support her, no family, no friends. But she made her stand."
But social media, a close-knit gay leather community (Major is the 2012 Mr. Dallas Eagle, where he's worked for two years) and support from GetEQUAL Texas have brought a lot of guests to this wedding waiting to happen. On the day of their court appearance, sit-ins were orchestrated around the country, in San Diego, Sacramento, New Mexico, Tampa, and Ohio, orchestrated there by GetEQUAL Ohio, another arm of the national GetEQUAL organization most recently noted for its high-profile protest to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, where GetEQUAL members, servicemen and women and supporters chained themselves to the White House fence.
Says Beau, "The GetEQUAL people have been great. We have liaisons for the North Texas region, for the state of Texas, and the National GetEQUAL organization all standing with us... and have stood with us throughout this entire thing."
Major doesn't take that support for granted, nor the support of a more personal nature. "We were lucky enough that we've had friends and family supporting us. That means a lot to me." That support comes via emails, phone calls, Facebook Likes, shared stories and texts from around the country.
"We have gotten support from all walks of life, from the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender and Queer community, to our straight allies, our straight friends who have been married, or who want to get married. But some of them say they are waiting to get married until everybody can get married," says Major.
Around his wrists, leather cuffs. Major says, "We are representing marriage equality for all people. But we also happen to both be leather men. So we're also representing our leather family."
Beau adds, "The outpouring of support has been amazing" and Major continues, in a conversational pattern of one man continuing the other's thoughts, like long-time couples tend to do, "...and we've gotten thousands of emails all over the country. Transgendered kids saying, 'Thank you for helping make the world a better place for when I get a little bit older and want to marry the person I want to,' to people who say they've been together forty years and they applaud us for our bravery, and know that one day everyone will have marriage equality."
There's that word 'bravery' again, not one normally associated with the joy of a wedding aside from jokes about a groom's cold feet. But both men have already made a trip to jail before they take a trip down the aisle, and Major is committed to as many of those trips as it takes. Says Major, "I don't know a lot of people who would actually go to jail to for their partner... but I love this man enough that I told him, 'If they throw me in jail for the maximum, which could be six months in jail for our Criminal Trespass, I would gladly serve the time and on day 181, I would come out and I would apply to get married to him again."
Both men fully understand they are engaged in a battle where some don't fully get the distinction between "legal marriage" and "church wedding," especially among the heavily religious populace of Texas. They know that religious leanings have convoluted and inflamed an issue of more basic civil rights. Says Beau, "They are absolutely entitled to their opinions. But it's where their opinions and their church start to infringe on my rights from my government... there's separation of church and state, there's a darn good reason for that." You can hear the passion in Beau's voice.
"We are starting to see that oppression creep in, and it's something that we have to take a stand on now. And it's not just about marriage equality, it's about equality across the board, and keeping religion out of our government institution." Beau again returns to the days of Independence, and the men who crafted it, to help make his case. "There are also many, many statements by the founding fathers, stating that this country isn't founded on anyone's religion, it's not founded on anyone's bible."
Major sums up his feelings. "They can not force me to believe what their god says."
For the court appearance to enter their plea against charges of Criminal Trespass, their cases were split into two, yet scheduled simultaneously, requiring two lawyers and also preventing each man from supporting his partner in the courtroom. Legal services are being provided pro bono for the men by Kimberly A. Butler of Ft. Worth, and Dax Garvin of Austin.
After their court appearance, Major and Beau were back in that line, this time with a almost two dozen or so friends, strangers and supporters also sitting on that floor. Six uniformed Dallas Sheriffs were there, too. By day's end, they led Major away in handcuffs, and this time the cuffs were the sheriff's, not Beau's or Major's. This second arrest had media attention and press coverage, and, it seems, momentum.
Beau sits this one out, fearing a second arrest could be a potential threat to his employment, but with the full support of his fiancé. "Major reassured me that his employer was fully behind him and he said, 'Stay on the outside, bail me out, and stay strong. I can't sit here and let this continue.' I began to cry. I admit it, I love him dearly and the thought of us being torn apart hurts me in a way that I cannot describe without tears welling up in my eyes... I kissed him and told him I would always stand by him, no matter how rough the waters get, and that if he wanted to do this for us for all of us out there who deserve equality, then I would be behind him 100%."
After he collects himself, Beau once again goes to the bigger picture, with a historical, and civil, perspective. "As we've seen with bigotry throughout history, it usually takes that act of civil disobedience to get the ball rolling, whether it's crowds standing, demanding that one drinking fountain be installed, and being sprayed down with firehoses as they roll down the street, to sitting at a marriage counter and refusing to leave until you get your license'" he says. "It's sometimes simply what it takes for revolution to start in this country."
As he sat outside the courthouse where Major was still detained, late that night and early into the morning, waiting for the bail bondsman to show up or the banks to open, whichever came first, Beau responded to texts and updated the "Free Major and Beau" Facebook group, that along with several GetEQUAL facebook pages has become the main bulletin board of information and support for the men. Bail was tripled, to $1500, for this second offense.
Beau remembers one bright spot, on that first day of defiance, in the Records Building. "One older, very sweet African-American couple that we spoke to, they actually were very, very supportive, gave us both hugs, told us they wished us luck and hoped that things changed for us."
Down another corridor of that very same building are the remains of a sign from the not-too-distant past. It's part of a "Whites Only" sign which used to hang over a water fountain. It's accompanied by a plaque which ends:
"The Dallas County Commissioners Court has chosen to leave the remnants of this sign in its original location to remind us of this unpleasant portion of our history-- if we cannot remember it, we will not learn from it, and we will not appreciate or respect the rights and responsibilities we enjoy."
Major and Beau would probably agree. Once the bail bondsman arrives.
(Photo credit: Major Jimenez, Beau Chandler, James Navarrette)