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Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss

Former S.A. activist is plaintiff in suit against state's equal marriage ban
QSanAntonio, October 31, 2013

San Antonio LGBT leaders were pleasantly encouraged when they heard that two Texas couples, one gay the other lesbian, filed a suit challenging the state's ban on same sex marriage. However, many were not surprised that Mark Phariss was one of the plaintiffs.

Phariss and his partner Vic Holmes, along with Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman from Austin, filed the federal lawsuit on Monday in San Antonio and are seeking a court order barring Texas officials from enforcing the state's same-sex marriage ban.

Many in San Antonio remember Phariss, an attorney who now lives in Plano, for his for leadership and LGBT activism, especially during the 1990s, when he lived here.

It was in 1997 in San Antonio where Phariss first met Holmes, a now-retired Air Force major who teaches at the University of North Texas. The couple recently celebrated their 16th anniversary.

Phariss told QSanAntonio that he and Holmes have fond memories of San Antonio.

"On a personal side, it's the city where we met. It's the city where we have many friends and some relatives," says Phariss. "And it's the city with wonderful food and a laid-back atmosphere. It's impossible not to like. On a professional side, it's the city where I learned to practice law and I am indebted to so many at Matthews & Branscomb, the law firm where I worked. It was a great firm with great lawyers."

For Holmes, San Antonio is the city where he became a physicians' assistant, obtained his under graduate degree and became an officer in the U.S. Air Force.

While in San Antonio, Phariss was on the board of governors of the Human Rights Campaign and sat on the board of directors of the San Antonio Black Tie Dinner, the predecessor to today's San Antonio HRC Gala.

Many local activists recall how in 1998 Phariss talked Ann Richards, who was governor from 1991 to 1995, into attending one of those Black Tie Dinners.

Phariss was also a political activist and organized a "Friends of Mike" campaign to support Mike Villarreal in his first run for State Representative during a special election in 2000. Villarreal still holds that office today.

The recent passage of the city's nondiscrimination ordinance on September 5 this year owes a lot to seeds sown by Phariss during 1997 and 1998. At that time, he singlehandedly met with then-Mayor Howard Peak and members of the City Council to advocate for the amendment of the city's employment nondiscrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Frank J. Garza, the city attorney at the time, only agreed to include sexual orientation in the final draft of the proposed ordinance. Prior to the ordinance going up for a vote, Phariss was able to convince six City Council members to vote yes for the measure.

Dan Graney, the co-chair of CAUSA who is a friend of Phariss', recalls that there had been no effort to organize the LGBT and ally community in time to gather support for the ordinance.

"When it came before the Council in January 1998, religious extremists, led by Christian radio talk show host Adam McManus showed up in force at City Council Chambers and engaged in such hateful intimidation tactics that the ordinance change was removed from the agenda. There were only a handful of speakers who spoke in favor of the ordinance," recalls Graney.

Phariss says the experience left him, "deflated, depressed, surprised at the amount of opposition to just banning employment discrimination."

Today, those who remember Pharris' activism in San Antonio see his effort to overturn the state's same sex marriage ban as a continuation a life-long commitment to LGBT equality -- an effort that has become very personal.

On October 3, Phariss and Holmes came back to San Antonio and went to the Bexar County Clerk's office to apply for a marriage license. They knew their request would be denied but it gave them the rationale they needed to file the federal suit.

The couple says that if their lawsuit succeeds, they plan to make their relationship legal. "We're optimistic that justice will prevail, but we recognize that with any litigation success is never guaranteed," says Phariss.

Lesbian couple seeks equal treatment with suit against Texas marriage ban
QSanAntonio, November 1, 2013

If you ask Cleopatra DeLeon and Nicole Dimetman why they decided to file a federal suit challenging Texas' equal marriage ban, the answer for them is simple: "It's important for our family to be treated equally under the law."