Texas same-sex marriage case

Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, left, and Mark Phariss are longtime friends -- and on opposite ends of the debate over same-sex marriage in the Lone Star State. (February 28, 2014)

HOUSTON — Mark Phariss almost didn’t file the lawsuit that led a judge to overturn the Texas ban on same-sex marriage this 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 Atty. Gen. 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.

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Now, for the last 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, on Thursday.

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 this 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, 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 in 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. There he met the man who would become his partner of nearly 17 years, former Air Force Major 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.