Felice Garcia and Celeste Branstetter are married. So are Keith Franklin and Jesse Alvarado. Both couples had San Antonio weddings which included their loved ones, both couples share homes and bank accounts, and are written into each other’s wills. The state of Texas does not recognize these couples’ marital status (though, in Keith and Jesse’s case, the state of Connecticut does), but consider this: a state law exists in Texas which forbids taking more than three sips of beer while standing. Texas law is a thuddingly blunt and unresponsive instrument, y’all; the State is perhaps intrinsically unsuited to marital relations between two complex people, which are ineffable, slippery, negotiated second-by-second, and divine.
We live in an age of change, though. However poky legal rights may be in coming, communities and families alike negotiate legal, economic, and emotional pathways within the evolving terrain of marriage. American courtship charges forward, even if Texas drags its heels.
“We’d talked about `getting married` for a long time; all it took was Celeste’s sister asking me when we were gonna do it,” says Felice Garcia, a company member and technical director at Jump-Start Theatre Company.
“She said to Felice, ‘When are you gonna make an honest woman of my sister?’” says
Garcia reflects, “Celeste’s dad was willing to pay for the wedding, but he wouldn’t walk her down the aisle.”
“It was a Catholic thing, just a belief he has,” Branstetter says, but adds that her extended family traveled from Memphis to celebrate the marriage, which took place on October 11, 2003. “My older sister walked me instead.”
Garcia’s family came from Albuquerque, too. For the wedding ceremony, Branstetter and Garcia found the Bethany Congregational Church online, whose website calls it “A Faith Community Under God’s Constant Construction.” The church was ready and eager to celebrate their commitment.
“They were more than supportive, they courted us!” Garcia says. “The pastor even did marriage counseling with us, and shared this study … that showed married people are healthier and take better care of themselves than unpartnered people. To him, it was right and a health issue.”
“I wasn’t trying to meet anyone, I was attempting to prove a friend wrong about the number of male Hispanics with bachelor’s degrees,” says Keith Franklin, a licensed therapist in private practice, and a doctoral candidate in Counselor Supervision and Education at St. Mary’s University. His online research led him to (college graduate) Jesse Alvarado’s profile on MySpace. “This was three years ago,” Franklin chuckles, “when MySpace was popular.”
After a series of flirting emails — legal in San Antonio, though an old city statute maintains the illegality “for both sexes to flirt or respond to flirtation using the eyes and/or hands” — Keith Franklin and Jesse Alvarado met and fell in love in-person. They married here on March 28, with a family and friends reception at Los Patios.
“I got a card from my grandmother — not a wedding card, just a card — saying she wouldn’t be able to make it. That was hurtful,” Franklin admits. “Jesse’s whole family came, though.”
Keith’s Grandma Franklin might not have fully appreciated the reception’s drag show, which spotlighted interpretations of Tina Turner, Selena, and “a very glamorous Marilyn Monroe type.” The newlyweds then flew to New York, and took the train from Grand Central Station to Connecticut, which had recently approved gay marriage, and legally wed there on April 1.
Garcia and Branstetter formalized their union with the help of attorney Maureen Llanas, who aided them in drafting legal documents consolidating their finances, overseeing their wills, and handling power of attorney `see sidebar, page 20`. Branstetter advises same-sex couples seeking to tie the knot “make sure you get a lawyer who understands the special needs and challenges facing same-sex couples, somebody with experence with those specific documents, so that all your documents are legally binding. Not all contracts would hold up in court, or in a medical emergency.”
“Communication is really paramount, which is said so often that it’s a cliché,” Franklin adds. “But where the conversation needs to go, is to break communication down: How are we going to argue? What are the deal-breakers? How do you incorporate tradition? Also, it can be very challenging to negotiate things like jointly owning a house between two men, who are raised to be independent.”
Franklin and Alvarado are particularly motivated to get their financial, legal, and emotional ducks in a row: They’ve embarked on the long and complex process of adopting a child.
Both couples remarked that the logistics and personal commitment required to marry are tough burdens, and each couple addressed the current legal and religious imbroglio using their own instincts. Branstetter and Garcia chose to engineer a workaround, Texas-legal strategy and added a spiritual wedding, while Franklin and Alvarado opted for a legal (in Connecticut) marriage, and had a Methodist minister at the ceremony. Both couples felt passionately about including friends, family, and community in their weddings. Both couples agree that it will likely take federal court battles and/or legislation to win them their marital rights in the Lone Star State. Perhaps the government should get out of the “marriage” business altogether.
“There should be civil unions for people regardless of the sex of the people involved,” Franklin says. “Whatever happened to the separation of church and state, anyhow?”