Most marriages take work -- in the months and years after the wedding ceremony. But for Mark and Dante Walkup, just getting their marriage recognized has been an exercise in legal and logistical hoop-jumping. The virally famous couple, who married over Skype to sidestep Texas's ban on same-sex marriages, found out late Friday that their union has been declared invalid by the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Mark calls the news a "sucker punch." He spoke briefly with Unfair Park this afternoon and says he and his husband were "shocked and devastated" by a letter that arrived at their home from the Superior Court addressed to the officiant of their wedding, Rev. Sheila Alexander-Reid, stating that their marriage was invalid because both the Walkups and Reverend Alexander-Reid were not physically present in D.C. at the same time for the ceremony.
The letter (which follows in full after the jump) states that the court takes issue with the "return" from the marriage license, which amounts to a little bit of legal backpedaling, considering a valid marriage license has already been issued to the Walkups. An excerpt from the letter reads:
"The return is invalid because it has come to the attention of the court that the subject contracting parties to the marriage and you, the officiant, did not all personally participate in a marriage ceremony performed within the jurisdictional and territorial limits of the District of Columbia."
It further advises the parties that they must return to D.C. -- all of them -- and perform the ceremony again if they want the marriage to be considered legal. But, in fact, when visiting D.C. in May, the Walkups asked a clerk and a supervisor at the marriage bureau whether their Skype wedding would be kosher. Mark says the couple was told by both officials that as far as they were concerned, the law only states that the officiant needs to be in the District of Columbia.
"In good faith, we planned our wedding accordingly because we thought we were talking to the experts," Mark says. He said he was additionally miffed by the lack of any notice from the court that their license was under review in the first place. Neither the couple nor the officiant were contacted by officials seeking information about the circumstances or geographical whereabouts of their marriage.
Reed-Walkup says he believes the invalidation is the politically motivated result of publicity surrounding their union. In other words: Someone in the D.C. court system heard about their marriage from the media and used that as a basis to invalidate it, without giving the Walkups a chance to respond, challenge the decision or even confirm that it happened at all.
"It was based on homophobia or politics or both," Reed-Walkup says. It's unknown at this point who initially took issue with the Walkups' marriage and complained to the court. A law professor who specializes in "e-marriage" tells Unfair Park that "there's simply no reason for the court to do something like this."
"[Courts] don't flyspeck other people's marriages," says Professor Mae Kuykendall at the Michigan State University College of Law. She's the co-head of the "E-Marriage Project" at Michigan and has written extensively advocating for Internet-facilitated unions, which would make it easier for same-sex couples to wed. (It would also make it much easier for heterosexual couples separated by, say, military service to get married.) Kuykendall added that the Superior Court's decision amounted to a violation of the principles of due process.
"It's fairly extraordinary for the court to have taken action adverse to Dante and Mark's interests based on something they read in the paper without advising them they were contemplating doing so," she tells Unfair Park.
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As they no longer have a legal marriage, the Walkups today rescinded their discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News. The daily paper had refused to allow the couple to run a paid announcement in the wedding section, citing their policy that same-sex unions can only go in the "commitment" section of the paper because same-sex marriage is illegal in Texas. The Walkups objected on the grounds that theirs was a legal marriage -- certificate and all -- but now have an invalid union. Though that may not be true for long.
Mark says that "our next move is to find out a way to get legally married," which probably means a trip to D.C. They're also talking to legal counsel to see whether they've got a "strong case" to fight the Superior Court ruling.
"Courts tend to be on the side of protecting marriage rather than eliminating a marriage," Reed-Walkup says. Professor Kuykendall at Michigan State agrees -- in fact, legally, it's almost unheard of for a non-party to a marriage to try and get an invalidation.
Usually, this is the kind of thing seen in divorce proceedings, or perhaps when heirs want to try and retroactively prove a marriage was invalid, Kuykendall says. But for an uninvolved third party to rule against a marriage in this way? Kuykendall says "it may not be the best reasoned bureaucratic action that's ever taken place."Letter to Gay Couple from DC Superior Court Invalidating Their Marriage