NEW ORLEANS — On the eve of arguments before the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, plaintiff same-sex couples and their attorneys touted their pursuit of marriage equality as a means of achieving fairness for LGBT families.
Teams from lawsuits in each of the states with the circuit — Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana — told their stories, often through tears, during an event at Cathedral Creative Studios in downtown New Orleans. The celebration, which was attended by just under 100 people, was jointly hosted by the organizations behind the lawsuits, including Freedom to Marry, Lambda Legal and the Forum for Equality Louisiana.
Frank Stenger-Castro, former Deputy General Counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Haurer & Feld, spoke about the process by which he started the Texas litigation and the successful outcome of marriage lawsuits throughout the country.
“It’s just been amazing to see the evolution around the country of these cases,” he said. “I have to say that none of this was pre-planned. Some people think that this was all a conspiracy or a network of brains working together to make all this happen, but as far as I’m concerned, we were one case, and when we saw all the dominoes falling across the country, it absolutely surprised us and amazed us, and I am exhilarated by that, and I hope to be exhilarated tomorrow.”
Mark Phariss, one of the plaintiffs in the Texas marriage case, spoke of the indignation over his state’s refusal to allow him to marry his partner, Victor Holmes.
“I’ve loved him from the first minute I met him the entire past 17 years, and it is unfair that Texas won’t allow us to marry,” Phariss said.
Nicole Dimetman, who’s a plaintiff in the Texas case along with her spouse, Cleopatra De Leon, expressed a similar frustration, recalling her discovery upon the birth of their first child of the lack of protections afforded to her family.
“The fact that Texas doesn’t recognize our marriage is demeaning and humiliating not only to us, but to our children,” Dimetman said.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, introduced the two same-sex couples in the lawsuit with whom her organization is seeking marriage equality in Mississippi.
Speaking on behalf of the Mississippi plaintiffs was Joce Pritchett, who said every action that makes LGBT people visible helps advance LGBT causes, choking up when she came to the issue of adoption and marriage.
Recalling an attorney who said Mississippi would only consider same-sex marriage litigation after hell had frozen over, Pritchett said a judge’s response was the weather outside seems chilly, adding she expects similar frostiness in New Orleans tomorrow.
The Louisiana case is in a different situation than the other two cases — and the vast majority of litigation throughout the country — because the trial judge in that case, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, determined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional.
Derek Penton-Robicheaux, one of the plaintiffs in the Louisiana marriage case, told the Washington Blade he hopes the Fifth Circuit judges keep in mind the common humanity of same-sex couples as they consider arguments.
“These aren’t rights that people are asking for that are special, these aren’t things that are based on politics or based on religions,” Penton-Robicheaux said. “These are rights that are guaranteed, these are families, these are lives that you control and that you have the potential to affect it.”
Concluding the event, John Denison, board chair for Louisiana’s Forum for Equality, said the Louisiana ruling in favor of his state’s marriage ban was a “lemon,” but he expects that to change with the Fifth Circuit arguments.
“We’re going to make lemonade tomorrow,” Denison said.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this article misattributed the quote from the attorney representing Texas same-sex couples. The Blade regrets the error.