Gay marriage fight pits Texas AG vs. gay friend

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 28, 2014 at 5:38 pm •  Published: February 28, 2014
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WACO, Texas (AP) — When Greg Abbott was paralyzed by a fallen tree in 1984, Mark Phariss flew 500 miles to his friend's bedside. They were law school pals who swapped stories over dinner, job leads and airport rides, and they still exchange Christmas cards today.

Their friendship is now at an extraordinary junction: Phariss, who is gay, filed the Texas lawsuit that a federal judge used this week to strike down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, which Abbott, Texas' attorney general, has vowed to defend all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Both chalk it up as a remarkable coincidence. Abbott, a Republican who is running for Texas governor, said Friday he still considers Phariss a friend, even though they've lost touch in the past decade.

Phariss, who never told Abbott he was gay, echoed the sentiment — even as Abbott works to uphold what Phariss considers to be discrimination.

"If I was only friends with the people I agreed with, particularly in Texas, I wouldn't have many friends," Phariss told The Associated Press.

Texas joined Oklahoma and Utah as the latest deeply conservative states that want to take its newly quashed gay marriage bans to the Supreme Court. A federal judge in San Antonio ruled Wednesday that Texas had no "rational" reason to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, but declined to enforce his decision pending Abbott's appeal.

Whatever the outcome, the history between Abbott and Phariss adds an intriguing backdrop to one of the most divisive social issues in the U.S.

Abbott made clear at a campaign stop Friday he doesn't approve of Phariss' quest to wed his longtime partner. He also expressed no sympathy at the thought of refusing his old friend the right to marry his partner of 16 years, Victor Holmes, an Air Force veteran.

"When the constitution is upheld, we're all winners," Abbott said.

Abbott said Friday he only realized Phariss was gay when his name appeared on the lawsuit, and said Phariss' sexuality doesn't change his opinion of him.

"It shows that on some of the hot-button issues of the day, we can have a civil discourse without harsh rhetoric," Abbott said.

Phariss and Abbott first met at Vanderbilt Law School. Phariss described two southerners — Phariss is from Oklahoma — and ideological opposites drawn together by their enjoyment of discussing politics over breezy dinners.

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