- By Chuck Lindell American-Statesman Staff
Vocal opponents of gay rights are pressing a Dallas federal judge to end same-sex marriage, arguing that to do otherwise would open the door to allowing Texans to marry multiple partners and inanimate objects.
The lawsuit, rejected as frivolous by gay-marriage advocates and Texas officials, is among at least 15 similar petitions filed nationwide by the activists, including Chris Sevier, a former Austin resident now living in Dallas who has been bounced out of several courts for trying to marry his laptop — a computer that led him to sue Apple Inc., unsuccessfully, for not protecting him from an internet porn addiction that ruined his marriage.
Sevier purports to be a “machinist” who is attracted to his laptop, and his lawsuit was joined by three others who claim to be polygamists in search of a triple marriage, including one who described herself as an ex-lesbian and another who said she formerly lived as a transgender man.
They argue that their unconventional marriage choices should be allowed under precedent set by the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down gay marriage bans in Texas and other states.
That argument, however, is an acknowledged attack against same-sex marriage, and the lawsuit makes it clear where their true beliefs lie.
“Man-man, woman-woman, man-object, man-animal and man-multiperson marriages all amount to obscenity in action and the promotion of obscenity,” said the lawsuit, filed in November.
Since the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage a national reality, opponents have tried to undermine — or at least limit — the ruling’s impact.
The Texas Legislature and lawmakers in other states have enacted laws to protect conservative Christians and other faith-based opponents from having to distribute same-sex marriage licenses. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether religious objections entitle businesses to refuse to serve gay weddings. The all-Republican Texas Supreme Court last year revived a lawsuit seeking to stop Houston from providing marriage benefits to same-sex spouses of city employees.
Adding to the drumbeat, the lawsuit in the Dallas federal court argues that the gay-marriage ruling, made “in collusion with the LGBTQ lobby and the Democratic Party,” threatens American democracy and community standards of decency.
Abbott, Paxton targeted
The activists sued Gov. Greg Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton, saying they should be stopped from enforcing marriage laws that improperly benefit gay Texans.
Although the two Republican officials have actively and consistently opposed same-sex marriage, they aren’t buying the premise.
In a legal brief filed last month, Abbott and Paxton asked the federal judge to toss the lawsuit, saying it failed to raise any valid legal points. The officials also argued that the lawsuit is invalid because judges must follow the Supreme Court ruling that established a right to same-sex marriage.
Their motion to dismiss also noted that Sevier included identical claims in a lawsuit that a Houston federal judge dismissed as frivolous in 2016.
Dallas County Clerk John Warren, who also was named in the petition after refusing to provide marriage licenses to the four plaintiffs, wants the lawsuit tossed out as well, arguing that it is part of a national campaign of pointless litigation by activists who display a “callous disregard for judicial resources or the expenditure of taxpayer funds in defending these suits.”
Federal courts have thrown out eight Sevier lawsuits since 2016 that sought to challenge gay marriage by attempting to marry his laptop, including two that were dumped as “patently frivolous” by judges who didn’t wait for state officials to seek dismissal, Warren wrote.
Additional lawsuits have been filed against governors and state officials by Sevier and the other plaintiffs in Utah, Colorado, Alabama, California, Mississippi and Arkansas, most of them since July 2017, he said.
In an interview, Sevier said they also filed suit in Kentucky and the District of Columbia and plan to add West Virginia to the list next week.
Magistrate Judge Paul Stickney has not yet issued his recommendations on the motions to dismiss or two motions seeking summary judgment in favor of Sevier and the other plaintiffs — John Gunter Jr. of Utah; Whitney Kohl of Utah, identified as a former lesbian; and Joan Grace Harley of Maryland, the lead plaintiff who said she lived as a transgender man for 18 years before becoming a minister.
Riddled with typos and mistakes, the lawsuit is 55 pages long, but Sevier said they plan to submit a streamlined petition in the coming weeks, explaining that they like to “file a huge, long complaint” to provide extra work for legal opponents.
But Sevier said the main point will remain unchanged from the original amended lawsuit, which argued that homosexuality is a religion and that same-sex marriage is the product of the religious movements of atheism and secular humanism. Therefore, legally recognized gay marriage — along with transgender-friendly policies and anti-discrimination laws that protect gay people — violates the First Amendment by advancing and endorsing a particular religion and by improperly entangling the government in the practice of religion, the petition said.
This is not a good thing, the lawsuit said: “After all, the religion of moral relativism, secular humanism and evangelical atheism has been the catalyst for most of the worst atrocities since the inception of humanity.”
The lawsuit supports its claims with affidavits from Christian pastors who are identified as religious experts and from members of the “ex-gay” movement, which teaches that LGBT people can change sexual orientation, typically with religious help.
“Homosexuality is a religion according to the testimony of ex-gays who lived the lifestyle for decades before totally leaving it behind, since it is a series of unproven faith-based assumptions and naked assertions that can only be taken on faith,” the lawsuit said.
If the courts choose to “protect” gay marriage by rejecting those arguments, the lawsuit reasons, then judges will have no choice but to embrace other practices that “are all part of the same religious ideology” — including people who are attracted to animals, machines or multiple partners.
Abbott and Paxton rejected the lawsuit’s arguments across the board.
“Plaintiffs cannot demonstrate any religious purpose because the state’s marriage laws relate to the concept of civil marriage, and they have not identified any law that intrudes on religious marriages,” their motion to dismiss the lawsuit said.
“The institution of civil marriage is separate and apart from a person’s religious beliefs, and civil marriage laws apply equally to persons of all faiths,” Abbott and Paxton concluded.
Jason Steed, a Dallas lawyer who represented couples who challenged the Texas ban on gay marriage, said he was pleased to see agreement from Abbott and Paxton. “The civil right of same-sex couples to marry is simply the right to be treated equally under civil law,” he said.
The lawsuit, he said, is another matter.
“It is absurd to claim that homosexuality is a religion, and it’s absurd to claim that giving same-sex couples equal access to civil marriage somehow amounts to giving a religious group preferential treatment,” Steed said. “Some would say this is the sort of frivolous lawsuit that should be sanctioned for wasting the court’s time and the taxpayers’ money.”
But Sevier said he and the other plaintiffs remain committed to this course of action — and are expanding their efforts to include the legislative branch by shopping the Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act to lawmakers in Texas and other states.
The proposed bill mirrors the lawsuit’s claim that gay marriage improperly entangles government in the religion of secular humanism, stating that the only acceptable form of marriage is between man and woman. They have found sponsors in Wyoming and two other states and are “confident that we will have Texas sponsors,” Sevier said.
“The ultimate goal is to make sure that the integrity of the Constitution is intact,” he said. “The courts are not supposed to be creatures of the culture, they’re supposed to uphold the Constitution.”