Texas' AG Was Law School Pals With Gay Marriage Plaintiff

By Brett Snider, Esq. on March 04, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In a strange twist of fate, Texas' attorney general is continuing to fight for Texas' gay marriage ban in De Leon v. Perry -- despite the fact his law school friend is one of the plaintiffs.

Attorney General Greg Abbott now has to square the reality that he is choosing to defend Texas' gay marriage ban while his long-time friend Mark Phariss fights for he and his partner to be legally wed, reports The Associated Press.

Attorneys general are facing crises of conscience, or at least constitutionality, across the U.S. over this issue, but will Abbott fight to deny Phariss the right to marry?

Friends Across Ideological Lines

Phariss' and Abbott's is a friendship that deserves the attention of our profession. Here you have two Southerners, who met at Vanderbilt Law School, and who now stand literally as named, opposing parties in a critical battle for marriage equality.

Although Phariss didn't come out as gay until well after his and Abbott's time at Vanderbilt, he tells the AP that the two are at least still amicable enough to swap Christmas cards -- even when they feature Phariss and his long-time partner Victor Holmes. Phariss recounts that he had even flown to be by Abbott's side after the latter had been paralyzed by a falling tree in 1984.

The accident didn't stop Abbott, who is now poised to make a run for the governor's office opposed by Wendy Davis. It can't be hard to imagine how political ambitions can put friendships at risk, but Phariss suggests it isn't an issue.

"If I was only friends with the people I agreed with, particularly in Texas, I wouldn't have many friends," Phariss told the AP. Maybe this is a good example of how lawyers should maintain friendships despite political differences.

Justices Scalia and Ginsburg would likely agree, and they might be seeing Abbott and Phariss very soon ...

Being AG Isn't Easy

I can't particularly think of many jobs that would require you to argue that your friend's life choices aren't (and shouldn't be) legal, but Abbott seems to have found it in the Texas Attorney General's seat.

The AP reports that Abbott only learned Phariss was gay when his friend's name appeared on the complaint filed in October. The gubernatorial hopeful also stated Friday that he didn't approve of Phariss' desire to marry Holmes, his partner of 16 years, but added "[w]hen the constitution is upheld, we're all winners."

It might be easy to pounce on Abbott for the seemingly indifferent remark, but remember that the office of the attorney general does have certain demands. Being snared between personal belief or relationships and the duty to defend a state's laws has been a frequent motif of the gay marriage narrative.

Abbott finds himself at the intersection of his conservative political hopes, his duty to his office, and his past relationship with Phariss. For his part, Phariss told the AP that he doesn't believe Abbott to have "any animus toward gay people."

Reconciling this belief with the reality of Abbott's official and personal stance on gay marriage may be difficult. But perhaps the solution lies with the bonds formed in the crucible of a decades-long friendship.

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