Across the nation, same-sex couples and their lawyers are engaged in a mostly friendly competition to get a gay marriage case back to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, Texas will jump further into the race.

Across the nation, same-sex couples and their lawyers are engaged in a mostly friendly competition to get a gay marriage case back to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Wednesday, Texas will jump further into the race.

A hearing before a federal judge in San Antonio will decide whether a suit brought by two couples, including two Plano men, will be allowed to go forward. The suit is asking the court to immediately block sections of the Texas Constitution and Texas law that prohibit same-sex marriages and refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states.

The state is defending the Texas laws and contends there is no need for any immediate decision. It’s asking the court to dismiss the suit.

Even in 2014, when a Super Bowl Coca-Cola ad features a gay family, there’s a certain risk to being the plaintiff or law firm filing such a suit. Many Texans don’t want to see gay marriage legalized, so there could be social or business costs.

"It’s not done happily," said Mark Pharris, 58, of Plano. "It’s far more publicity and being out there than I’d ever wanted."

But he and his partner, Victor Holmes, have faced plenty of challenges in their 17-year relationship.

"We love each other and, like most straight couples who love each other, we want to get married," he said.

These days, filing a gay marriage lawsuit doesn’t exactly make someone an isolated target for attacks. Federal courts in at least 19 states have suits filed on the subject, and there are other suits in various state courts. Some cases have gone though initial rulings and are into appeals. Even in Texas, two other federal suits have been filed in Austin. But those aren’t likely to hit a courtroom for the first time for several months.

Legal strategy

The basic legal strategy is simple:

Last June, in a case called United States vs. Windsor, the Supreme Court knocked down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, a law that prohibited federal marriage benefits for legally married same-sex couples. The law, the court ruled, violated "basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government."

But that ruling did not address state laws. So same-sex marriage proponents are trying to get that question to the high court. The more cases ruled on in more federal districts, particularly if there are disagreements among the districts, the more likely the Supreme Court will decide to settle the argument.

First isn’t necessarily best, said Barry Chasnoff, the lawyer from the Akin Gump law firm handling this case. The court isn’t required to hear the quickest case through the appellate process.

"The Supreme Court always wants good advocates in front of it so it can get the issues properly vetted," he said.

Both couples in this suit have connections with Akin Gump.

Pharris has a longtime friend at the firm who was looking for couples willing to sign on to the suit. Nicole Dimetman, who with Cleopatra De Leon make up the other couple in the suit, used to work for the firm.

The women are both military veterans who met in 2001. They married in Massachusetts, one of the states that allows same-sex marriage, and have a child. De Leon is the biological mother and, because Texas does not recognize their marriage and her parental rights, Dimetman went through adoption proceedings.

Holmes is also a veteran. He and Pharris met in 1997, when he was in the Air Force and stationed in San Antonio. For many years, they had a long-distance relationship because of where Holmes was stationed, with Pharris traveling to San Diego, Biloxi, Little Rock and Wichita Falls. In 2010, Holmes retired from the service as an Air Force major, and the men moved to North Texas.

Holmes is a physician’s assistant. Pharris is a lawyer.

Positive response

The response they’ve received from the suit has mostly been positive, Pharris said. A few friends and family members have made it clear they disapprove. After all, no matter how sincere the plaintiffs, many Texans believe they’re dead wrong and that same-sex marriage is immoral and damaging to society.

But far more people have been supportive.

And they’ve gotten a couple of notes from strangers, other gay couples in Texas thanking them for stepping forward.

"This level of support is very encouraging and we hope this case does make a difference, not just for Vic and me, but for all Texans," Pharris said.

Akin Gump is a firm with a history of supporting gay marriage and significant pro bono work. The partners see this as a civil rights cause, akin to the major race-related cases from the 1950s and 1960s, Chasnoff said.

The decision isn’t free. If the case goes to the Supreme Court, the firm could invest more than a million dollars in fees and work. And there’s no guarantee that the high court will choose this case or of victory if it does.

For the couples, this is a case that they see as having a real chance to break legal ground. And they’re willing to take whatever heat comes along with it.

"It’s clear that the wind is at our backs. And not just in Texas, but nationally," Pharris said.

The suit itself rehashes arguments familiar to anyone who follows the topic:

Plaintiffs say the state law discriminates against same-sex couples for no legally permissible reason and that recent higher court rulings have established that the right to choose one’s spouse should be protected.

‘The state’s interest’

The state says that marriage in Texas has always been between one man and one woman and that anybody has the right to take advantage of that. It says the state has an interest in keeping it that way. The one specific reason cited is "promoting the state’s interest in responsible procreation and childrearing."

The state also says that the federal courts have no business interfering — and certainly not in such a hurry that a temporary injunction is appropriate.

To which plaintiffs respond:

"Not quite … Texas law does not restrict marriage to couples that can procreate."

The state briefs also note that judges in several other federal districts have rejected the arguments offered in this case. And that the Supreme Court put a hold in December on an injunction issued by a Utah federal judge against that state’s similar laws against same-sex marriage.

Whatever happens in U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia’s San Antonio courtroom on Wednesday is sure to be appealed.

Pharris is hopeful that, whatever the legal process, his side will prevail. That Super Bowl Coke ad, in which two men and their daughter frolic at a skating rink, is an indication of which way the culture is headed, he said.

"What they’re doing is reaching out to other communities to sell their product. That’s what all good businesses do," he said. "Net-net, they clearly think they come out ahead."