Another reason why marriage equality matters

This was bad.


A graduate anthropology student, the wife of an active duty Air Force captain, said the University of Texas at San Antonio denied her an in-state tuition waiver — a decision she thinks came about because she’s married to another woman.

The student said she applied for the cheaper tuition by filling out a form that refers to the active duty member as either a spouse or a parent, and had it signed by her wife’s commander.

There was a problem with it, she was told a few weeks later. Then came a Sept. 27 email from a UTSA admissions supervisor, she said.

A copy she provided said simply, “We regret to inform you that per our Legal Department we are unable to process your in-state tuition waiver. Your tuition will remain out-state.”

The issue is complex and still under review, UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand said in an email Thursday.

On Friday, UTSA reversed its decision. That’s good, but it’s not adequate.

State and federal laws grant in-state tuition at public institutions to the spouses and dependents of military personnel. But federal law now defines spouses differently from the Texas Constitution in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that rejected parts of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The student, 28, has asked not to be identified for fear that publicity would affect her work as a midwife and the career of her wife, 29, stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

“After carefully reviewing this matter, it has been determined that the student will be charged resident tuition,” UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand said in an email. “Our university is enriched through inclusiveness and diversity. We honor the service of our military personnel and recognize the sacrifices made by their families.”

The student said Friday that the university awarded her a $1,000 merit-based graduate anthropology scholarship, which qualified her for resident tuition.


While Friday’s reversal “fixed my problem,” she said, “it didn’t fix the problem” with the policy.

“I get to be excited that I don’t have a financial burden, but the policy hasn’t changed,” the student said. “If anybody else applies in the future, they are not necessarily protected.”

Legal experts said this week the conflict between state and federal definitions of marriage would likely produce more such cases, likely unable to be resolved except by eventual litigation.

Izbrand’s statement said, “Because of the complexities involved and the potential conflict between the federal statute and state law, the university will seek additional legal guidance on this issue.”

I’m sure we can all guess what an opinion from AG Greg Abbott will look like. Kudos to UTSA for solving this one student’s problem, but she is quite correct to say that it is not an actual solution since it does nothing for the next person in her shoes. The underlying problem is the disconnect between federal law and our unjust, backward, discriminatory state law. This disconnect is causing an increasing number of problems with divorce cases and benefits for military spouses, and I’m sure that list will keep growing. The state’s response, as articulated by Greg Abbott, is that all these people should just leave their marriage licenses at the border and forget about all the rights and economic benefits that come with them because the state of Texas has closed its eyes and stuck its fingers in its ears and is busy chanting “LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU”. The possibility that this well-thought out legal strategy might cause actual harm to real people is of no concern to Greg Abbott.

Well, that’s what needs to change first, and the person in the best position to make that happen in Wendy Davis. Put Greg Abbott on the spot and make him explain why he favors harming military families like this. Point out, over and over again, that he is responsible for harming them. Then tie it to his smug utterance about how all he does every day is “wake up, sue the Obama administration, and go home” and hammer home the fact that every one of his self-indulgent exercises in litigation has been about pursuing narrow partisan interests at the expense of everyday, hard-working, tax-paying Texans. Press on from there to showcase how increasingly out of touch the state and Greg Abbott are with public opinion – even ExxonMobil, in response to the change in federal policy, will now offer domestic partner benefits to its employees, for crying out loud – and how being out of touch like this will cost Texas in the long run as people and businesses will stop wanting to locate here. Just as the moment was right for Davis to run for Governor in the first place, the time is right to turn the old culture war arguments around and take the fight to turf we used to run away from. It’s on Wendy Davis and anyone who joins her on the ticket to recognize this opportunity and grab it. This is a good start, but we’ll need more than that. It’s there for the taking if we want it.

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