Texas is a big place, and as Robert Wuthnow has recently reminded us in Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State, it has an oversized role in matters of religion and politics. That is one reason why the recent Texas Monthly cover story of falling head over heels for gay marriage struck me as significant. Now, a month later, the reviews are in. The April “Roar of the Crowd” letters section describes a “voluminous inrush of response,” often including the magazine itself, returned in protest. The staff seems likely, however, to take the rebuke as a badge of honor.
Though billing itself as “The National Magazine of Texas,” Texas Monthly has long had difficulty lifting its eyes beyond its unique hometown. Boasting the state capitol, the Longhorn football team, and the Broken Spoke honky-tonk, Austin is both quintessentially Texan and the most decidedly un-Texan city between the Red and the Rio Grande. A relatively irreligious “hole in the Bible Belt” and a deep blue drop in a sea of political red, its credo has long been “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s the sort of place where “Leslie”—a homeless and bearded transvestite who rode around town on a big tricycle—could run for mayor and win, if not the election, at least the approving hearts of the citizenry.
And so the left-leaning writers at TM were likely in a tizzy to make it to the gay marriage ball before the Supreme Court clock struck midnight and the “heroic legal pioneer” story turned into a pumpkin. Thankfully for them, after just one federal shoe dropped in the 2013 Windsor decision knocking down President Clinton’s Defense of Marriage Act, somebody sued to invalidate the Texas Constitution’s marriage amendment that had passed with 76% of the vote. This was in 2005 with Travis County, containing Austin, being the only one of 254 Texas counties where a majority did not approve.
By rule, the plaintiffs in these ginned up cases must be attractive and sympathetic. The starring roles here went to two native Texan lesbians living in Austin but married in Massachusetts. They worry about what happens if they need to divorce and are stressed by the extra hoops and risks associated with adopting the other’s sperm-bank fathered children. (The couple has a young boy and another child on the way.) Fourteen pages tell the tale of the likable ladies and their brave pro bono attorneys.
Writer Pamela Colloff paints a picture of domestic bliss and normalcy—“being a family is all they’ve ever wanted” we’re told in half-inch type—while also declaring that if their suit is successful, “Texas will undergo the single most transformative cultural shift in recent memory.” Actually, being unconnected to the Supreme Court cases set to be argued in April, their case is destined to not even be a footnote in legal history.
All the more reason to lay it on thick now. The cover declares them a “Modern Family” and the two–page opening spread features the friendly–faced couple touching their hands and scripture-inscribed rings on the current baby bump. A large pink equal sign is inset with “To Love and To Cherish.” So begins TM’s effort to move Texas beyond being “one of the last, stubborn holdouts.” Translated, that means Texas has been one of the hardest places to find judges ready to override democratic action. That’s been the primary mechanism of change in California, Iowa, and a couple dozen more states including Virginia, where I was among the disenfranchised voters.
The plaintiffs did eventually find a local federal district court judge who would toss the state constitution, but he stayed his decision for appeal. For Colloff, who then sat through the Fifth Circuit appellate argument, a justice mocking the idea of “rational prejudice” was a highlight, and an attorney asking, “If marriage is good for children, why deny marriage to same-sex couples with children?” was “the most thought-provoking question of the hour.” That circular reasoning provoked me to toss my letter to the editor onto the pile. Numbers matter, even in a forum where the goal is not to neutrally display “what people are saying about us” but to decide “which of these things that people are saying do we want to show the world.”
A month later, I opened up TM and turned to the letters. First up, a Bible thumper declaring it’s an “abomination” (cue the Amen’s and eye rolls). Second, TM “knocks it out of the ballpark.” A high school teacher then declares that the young rainbow clad cavalry is coming. Next up, a “majority rules” retort to the judges. Then, surprisingly, my letter, or a portion of it. Perhaps they were flattered that I thought they had “out-puffed” the Washington Post. TM also liked my compliment for the couple (there is a lot to like about them) but cut out the heart of my analogy noting there is a rational basis for precluding 12 year-olds (even the smart ones) from voting. Maybe they needed space for the long All in the Family letter arguing that Colloff had made a Meathead argument (liberal and correct) but in an “Archie-esque” way by ignoring the reasoning of millions of Texans.
It appears those millions will continue to be ignored. A lengthy lead-in to the letters section attempted to check the we note your indignation box while giving some sly winks to the LGBT crowd and closed by noting an unnamed subscriber who requested to be removed from the mailing list “if this is what I am to expect from Texas Monthly.” The inquiry, the magazine tells us, “served to permanently dissolve future correspondence between publisher and reader.” Question asked. Answer received.
John Murdock writes from Texas.
Image from Pixabay.