Texas doesn't yet recognize same-sex marriages, and the Methodist Church doesn't either. But that didn't stop Jack Evans and George Harris, 84 and 80 years old respectively, from being married by United Methodist Reverend Bill McElvaney, in front of hundreds of people on Saturday. In a story that combines two of the biggest narratives of the U.S. fight over same-sex marriage, the union of Harris and Evans simultaneously rebukes Texas's state-wide ban on same-sex marriages, and their church's refusal to allow clergy to perform the ceremonies.
Harris and Evans have been together for 53 years, and their story spans virtually the entirety of the modern gay rights movement: the couple met at a gay bar in Dallas in 1961, according to a 2011 profile of the couple on their 50th anniversary. At the time, Evans says that he lost his job because of his sexual orientation, as he told the Dallas Voice:
Evans had recently moved back from Houston. He had been managing the antique furniture department at Neiman Marcus in the Houston store, but Edwin Marcus found out he was gay. He lost the job, he said, because Marcus said they were afraid that if others found out, he’d be blackmailed and begin to steal from the company. “They ‘allowed’ me to resign,” Evans said.
And Harris told the paper that he was discharged from the Army (he worked as a stenographer) after facing questions about his sexuality. Eventually, the pair became well-known activists for LGBT people in Dallas. And now, they've married, despite two bans telling them they can't: that of the state of Texas, and that of their church, the United Methodists.
Both bans have faced substantial challenges in the months since the Supreme Court overturned portions of the Defense of Marriage Act. United Methodist Reverend Bill McElvaney, 85, is just the latest Methodist clergy member to challenge his denomination's ban on hosting or blessing same-sex marriages. In November, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial for officiating the same-sex marriage of his son several years ago. Rev. Frank Schaefer was ultimately defrocked, but not before drawing national attention to the divisions on the issue within the Methodist church. In an interview before Sunday's nuptials, McEvlaney also made it clear that his participation in the marriage of Evans and Harris should absolutely be read as a rebuke of his organization's stance:
“I think the church is on the wrong side of the gospel on this, and the wrong side of history. We claim that our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and therefore to transform the world. I’m saying, `Transform the world?’ By excluding a whole group of people? Who are we kidding? That’s just myopic, blindness.”
McEvlaney, who has liver cancer, risks going on trial before his fellow pastors, just like Schaefer had to do. McElvaney has been an ordained elder in the organization since 1957. He risked his career in January by putting up a standing offer for any gay couple in Texas who wanted a church marriage: step forward, and he'll officiate.
Harris and Evans's marriage won't be recognized by the state of Texas, at least for now. The state is in the middle of defending its ban on same-sex marriages in court, after a federal judge overturned the law last week. That decision won't go into effect until after the appeals process.