By Adolfo Pesquera
Express-News Staff Writer
Jessica Wicks and Robin Manhart Wicks got up at 5:30 Wednesday morning for the three-hour drive from their Houston home to San Antonio to obtain a marriage license.
Jessica Wicks (left) and Robin Manhart Wicks display their marriage license Wednesday on the steps of the Bexar county Courthouse. The Houston couple plan to wed Sept. 16 in San Antonio. The women are able to marry because Jessica was born a male.
Photo by Delcia Lopez/Express-News Photographer
In doing so, the lesbian couple embarked on a landmark journey in Texas legal history.
Robin, 44, changed her last name to Wicks months ago as an expression of her love and commitment to Jessica, 53. But they could only obtain the marriage license in one of the 32 counties under the jurisdiction of Texas' 4th Court of Appeals.
Their attorney, transsexual advocate Phyllis Frye, accompanied them to the county seat of her philosophical nemesis, Chief Justice Phil Hardberger.
It was Hardberger who last year ruled that Christie Lee Littleton, a male-to-female transsexual, had no legal right to file a malpractice suit against a doctor after the death of Littleton's husband because she was born a man and therefore the marriage was null.
However, by banning a male-to-female transsexual's marriage to a man, the Hardberger opinion opened the door to any transsexual who seeks to be in what many would consider a homosexual marriage. Jessica Wicks, a male-to-female transsexual, chose to walk through that door.
With Littleton and the Wickses by her side, Frye said, "Isn't it amazing? We've got a same-sex marriage that is legal and a heterosexual marriage that was made illegal. That's what happens when government meddles into people's lives."
The couple plan to marry Sept. 16 in San Antonio.
Frye, capitalizing on the 4th Court's ruling, said she intends to turn San Antonio into a mecca for transsexuals in gay relationships who want marriage licenses.
"I'm putting the word out. We're going on the Internet, inviting any female-to-male transsexual in a gay relationship as well as any male-to-female transsexual in a lesbian relationship to take a week's vacation, fly in, wait the 72 hours required and get married," Frye said.
Acquiring the marriage license, Jessica Wicks commented, was surprisingly uneventful.
"After having experienced Harris County, I found the process here to be very considerate," she said.
Jessica and Robin Wicks were turned away at the Harris County Clerk's Office after presenting their drivers' licenses. Because the sex on each license was marked female, the clerk denied them on the grounds that same-sex marriages are illegal in Texas, as they are throughout the United States.
Jessica then produced her birth certificate, which showed she was born male, and a copy of the appellate opinion Littleton vs. Prange. The clerk was unmoved, and the trip to Bexar County was set in motion.
The Littleton opinion and the Wickses' attempt at a legal marriage have drawn worldwide interest in the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, said Sarah DePalma, state organizer for the Texas Gender Advocacy Information Network.
"I've had e-mails from as far as Pakistan," DePalma said.
Littleton, trying to be magnanimous as the tears welled up, wished the Wickses happiness.
"The door is opening up for them, but at the same time the 4th Court is closing doors for people like myself," Littleton said. "I completed my womanhood. It really saddens me that they did that to my marriage."
Nullifying Littleton's marriage meant ignoring a legally acquired Kentucky marriage license, the opinion of the medical community that performed her sex reassignment, a birth certificate revised by a lower court, jointly filed tax returns and even child support payments Littleton was forced to make to her husband's ex-wife after he became ill.
The Texas Supreme Court refused to hear her case, and it is on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
DePalma said that if the courts fail to provide an answer for Littleton, she intends to lobby the Legislature to pass a law defining what criteria determine sex.
Were Littleton's fortunes to change, it would likely spell trouble for couples like the Wickses, Frye said.
However, Texas has strong prohibitions against retroactive laws. And because the Wickses now have a license, Frye said she is confident they have a strong case in the event their marriage is attacked.
"The times are changing," Jessica Wicks said. "More and more people who are not gay or lesbian are saying, 'These people are OK.'"
The Wickses plan to return to San Antonio to be married at the Metropolitan Community Church. John Nicholas, the pastor, said the marriage could not be performed at the home church because it is in Houston.
"The only reason we're here at all," Nicholas said of the media interest, "is because of centuries-long religious extremist oppression."
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