Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Texas gay marriage: Two friends took opposite sides in the courtroom

HOUSTON — Mark Phariss almost didn't file the lawsuit that led a judge to overturn the Texas ban on same-sex marriage last week.

One reason: Phariss, a Dallas corporate lawyer seeking to marry his partner of several years, has long been friends with one of the conservative state officials he sued: Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

The two men grew up about 50 miles apart in conservative country — Phariss in Lawton, Okla., Abbott to the south in Wichita Falls, Texas. Later, they became friends during law school and stayed in touch over the years with an occasional meeting or Christmas card.

Now, for the past several months, they have been at the opposite ends of one of the nation's most contentious issues as it played out in the Texas courts, the battle over legalization of same-sex marriage.

A federal judge found in Phariss' favor Wednesday, striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling that found the prohibition has no "legitimate governmental purpose."

Abbott, who is running for governor, filed an appeal a day later.

Phariss, 54, and Abbott, 56, first met in the 1980s at Vanderbilt University law school in Nashville.

Abbott was conservative, Phariss more liberal, and at that point not yet openly gay. Abbott was a year ahead of Phariss and the two talked about school and politics.

"I don't know that we agreed on much at all," Phariss recalled. Still, "It never affected our friendship."

Abbott was married at the time. Phariss met his wife, Cecilia, when the three went out for drinks or dinner.

"Cecilia and I were, indeed, friends with Mark Phariss. We remember Mark from our law school days and his early days as a lawyer in San Antonio," Abbott said last week.

They remained friends after Abbott graduated and moved in 1984 to Houston, where he began studying for the bar.

One day when Abbott was out jogging after a storm, he was struck by a falling tree limb and hospitalized.

Phariss, who was clerking in Tulsa, Okla., flew down to join Abbott's wife and mother at his bedside. Abbott was bedridden but still upbeat, Phariss said, and seemed glad to see him.

Abbott said he and his wife "remain grateful that Mark visited the hospital during the trying time after my injury."

The accident left Abbott paralyzed from the waist down and using a wheelchair. He went on to pass the bar and join one of Houston's largest law firms.

"He exhibited a great deal of personal courage to overcome what happened," Phariss said.

A year later, Abbott helped Phariss get a job offer from his law firm, although Phariss turned it down to work in San Antonio, Texas. There he met the man who would become his partner of nearly 17 years, former Air Force Maj. Victor Holmes, 44.

When Abbott later came to San Antonio while campaigning for a statewide judgeship, Phariss — by then a registered Democrat who occasionally voted Republican — drove him around, taking him to meet lawyers in his office.

Phariss was openly gay with friends, but not with business associates. It was never an issue with Abbott, he said: "We had a good relationship." They still exchanged Christmas cards.

Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act, Phariss and Holmes began weighing whether to file a lawsuit of their own to push for same-sex marriage in Texas. Holmes had retired from the military and was working as a physician's assistant. He had no major reservations about a suit.

Phariss did.

"I had a whole slew of concerns. I was not openly out in my professional life. I've been the general counsel of companies. I was afraid it would hurt my career," he said, "There's a big difference between being out and being public."

He thought about Abbott, who he knew would be named in the suit. He wondered if his friend would take it personally, or see the lawsuit as a political ploy.

Phariss reasoned that he wouldn't be suing Abbott personally, but rather in his capacity as attorney general. "This wasn't brought for any political reasons at all — this was brought for us to get our rights," Phariss said.

Before he filed the lawsuit, Phariss talked himself into believing there wouldn't be much news coverage. "That was clearly wrong," he said.

The story exploded, with newspapers across the country profiling Phariss and Holmes. Phariss was careful not to mention his friendship with Abbott. He didn't feel ready to talk about it, especially with the suit pending.

Some friends sent him angry texts saying they were unhappy with him for pursuing the case.

"At first I thought they were joking," Phariss said — until they stopped talking to him.

He had alerted his boss to the suit. Phariss said he and others at work have been supportive, primarily concerned for his safety in such a deeply conservative state. Phariss said he has not received any threats.

Phariss said it's difficult to know what impact his decision to go public will have on his career, what jobs or other opportunities he may miss out on.

"Professionally, I don't know whether I've been hurt yet or not," he said.

Phariss is not sure what impact the case will ultimately have on his friendship with Abbott. He hopes it can continue.

"I have relatives who are not supportive. I have a twin sister who is not supportive. I'm going to continue to talk to them. So I really cannot treat Greg Abbott any different," Phariss said. "He will come around. I'm absolutely convinced. He and others."

Phariss still plans to send Abbott a Christmas card.

Comments
ScarFace the Osprey scarfs up prized neckwear to make Coquina Key home

ScarFace the Osprey scarfs up prized neckwear to make Coquina Key home

ST. PETERSBURGSome 25 feet up in the air, towering over Coquina Key, sits an osprey surveying the park below.It is on the hunt for any bit of material so it can prepare a nest for future hatchlings. Whether it be sticks, hay, palm leaves, a trash bag...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Special counsel questions Sessions; Is Trump coming soon?

Special counsel questions Sessions; Is Trump coming soon?

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for hours in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, the Justice Department said Tuesday, as prosecutors moved closer to a possible interview with President Donald Trump about whether he ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Allowing felons a meaningful chance to reclaim their right to vote and rejoin civic life is edging closer to reality in Florida. On Tuesday the state announced that a yearslong petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot h...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Woman, 60, found guilty of filing false liens against Pinellas judge

Woman, 60, found guilty of filing false liens against Pinellas judge

LARGO — In his eight years as a circuit judge, Thomas Minkoff has handled family and civil cases, as well as 14,000 foreclosure hearings.He was in court once again on Tuesday, but not in his usual perch at the bench. This time, he was on the witness ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hernando County administrative offices to move outside Brooksville

Hernando County administrative offices to move outside Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — After more than 15 years of on and off debate, the County Commission has decided to turn the entire Hernando County Government Center over to the judicial arm of county government, providing the space judges and other judicial officials...
Updated: 1 hour ago
CEO Nancy Tower’s goal for Tampa Electric: renewable energy

CEO Nancy Tower’s goal for Tampa Electric: renewable energy

TAMPA — Tampa Electric Co.’s future will be green if new CEO Nancy Tower has anything to say about it. Speaking at a University of Tampa panel Tuesday, Tower outlined her plan to move the Tampa-based utility toward a completely renewable energy portf...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Man, 60, arrested in fatal shooting of his neighbor in Holiday

HOLIDAY — A 60-year-old man was arrested by Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies Tuesday, after deputies say he fatally shot a neighbor who was standing in his own front yard.Deputies said Qiu Feng Kek shot his neighbor, a man in his 30s, at 3519 Richboro...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Updated: 2 hours ago
Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

Map: Where to park for Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and NHL All-Star Weekend overlap Saturday in downtown Tampa. Here are highlights of what to know before you go.GETTING THEREThe parade route runs generally along Bayshore Boulevard north to Ashley Street (In blue on t...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

Troopers: U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. now open except for inside lane

CLEARWATER — Officials have reopened U.S. 19 at Countryside Blvd. except for the inside lane.  The entire highway was closed for a brief period Tuesday while workers cleaned up a chemical spill after a Terminix truck flipped over. According t...
Updated: 3 hours ago