It's a week away from her trip down the aisle with the love of her life, and Michelle Dean still hasn't figured out what she's going to wear.
"It'll be something lacy and frilly, I'm sure," giggles the 35-year-old Bellaire High School science teacher. The dress may not be decided on, but Dean is at least prepared for the emotional roller coaster that comes with being a bride. "It's going to be really exciting to have my family and loved ones there," she says. "But there's also going to be sadness, because it's not real."
Dean will exchange vows with Kelly Gilbert, her partner of nine years, in a ceremony that will include an estimated 100 same-sex couples at Resurrection Metropolitan Church on Saturday, February 12. The event, part of National Freedom to Marry Day, is being touted as the largest same-sex wedding ceremony in the state, despite the fact that the unions aren't legal under the Texas Family Code.
Jerry Simoneaux of the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality, the local group coordinating the event, says participants will show that "there isn't one single answer in religion to the question of same-sex marriage. And they'll be there to show that their marriages are real and are supported and recognized by their friends, family and faith. Only the state of Texas refuses to give them that same dignity."
The Reverend Chris Chiles of Houston Community Gospel Church will oversee the multidenominational ceremony. "We have support from a wide array of churches, from Clear Lake to Livingston," he says.
Love is the theme of the National Freedom to Marry Day events. "The date is very symbolic," says Simoneaux. "It marks Abraham Lincoln's birthday, meaning equality, and Valentine's Day, which obviously signifies love."
Last year Simoneaux organized 16 same-sex couples who symbolically requested marriage licenses at County Clerk Beverly Kaufman's office and were subsequently denied. He says they were met with a small group of protesters, carrying signs bearing the familiar -- if not virulent -- anti-gay cry "God Hates Fags." Simoneaux also recalls a bomb threat at the 2003 Freedom to Marry Day event. "Only three people got up and left -- and that was only because they had very small children," he says. "No one blamed them."
The wedding ceremony will kick off Freedom to Marry Week, which runs though February 19. Coincidentally, the Christian-based Focus on the Family Foundation will host the "Love Won Out" conference at Grace Community Church in Clear Lake on February 19. The conference's theme is that "homosexuality is preventable and treatable -- a message routinely silenced today," according to the group's promotional materials. To promote the event, some 15 billboards featuring beaming, fresh-faced men and women with the tagline "I Questioned Homosexuality" have greeted drivers.
"The majority of Americans are not for gay marriage," says Mike Haley. He's a speaker at the conference and a "reformed" homosexual who is now married with children. " We just have to look at scripture: God says it's wrong.
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"We're saying that there are many men and women who desire to walk away from homosexuality, and we're saying that there's a way for them," Haley says. "I don't understand why the gay community is so offended by me telling my story."
But offended it is. Gay activist Ray Hill is planning protests -- the theme is "No U-turns: in traffic and in sexuality" -- near the site of the FOTF conference.
Meanwhile, the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality has planned a conference dubbed "Love Won! We're Out: Mind, Body and Soul" for February 19 at Community Gospel Church. Topics range from homosexuality in the Bible to the damaging effects of ex-gay therapy. "We'll be offering our version of the truth," says Simoneaux.
And while the many shades of it will be debated this week, for Kelly Gilbert, there is only one overriding truth. "I have stability, I have Michelle, I have a marriage," she says. "They can withhold rights, but they can't take that away from me."