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Unable to marry in Texas, lesbian couple from Victoria weds in Iowa

By By GHENI PLATENBURG
May 28, 2011 at 12:28 a.m.

Christine, left,  and Cynthia Flores joke while taking their kids on a bowling outing Tuesday at Century Lanes. The two have been together for eight years and traveled to Iowa on May 5 to get "officially" married even though the marriage will not be recognized in the state of Texas.

Issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Massachusetts, Connecticut, California*, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, District of Columbia and the Coquille Indian Tribe in Oregon.

Recognizes same-sex marriages from other states: Rhode Island, New York, MarylandAllows civil unions, providing state-level spousal rights to same-sex couples: Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey (Note: In Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, same-sex marriage has replaced civil unions.)

Statewide law provides nearly all state-level spousal rights to unmarried couples (domestic partnerships): California, Oregon, Nevada, Washington

Statewide law provides some state-level spousal rights to unmarried couples (domestic partnerships): Hawaii, Maine, District of Columbia, Wisconsin

Issues marriage licenses to same-sex couples: Argentina; Belgium; Canada; Iceland; Netherlands; Norway; Portugal; South Africa; Spain; Sweden; Mexico City, Mexico

Recognizes same-sex marriages from elsewhere, but does not perform them: Aruba (Netherlands only); Curaçao (Netherlands only);Israel; Mexico: all states (Mexico City only); Sint Maarten (Netherlands only)

Allows Civil unions and registered partnerships: Andorra; Austria; Brazil; Colombia; Czech Republic; Denmark; Ecuador; Finland; France; Germany; Greenland; Hungary; Ireland; Isle of Man; Luxembourg; New Zealand; Slovenia; Switzerland; United Kingdom; Uruguay

While the exact number of homosexual people residing in The Crossroads region is unknown, the Facebook page for the Victoria Chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender group (GBLT) boasts over 400 friends.

Sources: www.facebook.com, www.lambdalegal.org/states-regions/texas.html, www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16430

Oprah Winfrey will always be known to the Floreses of Victoria as the woman whose television show gave the couple the extra push to get legally married.

Cynthia Flores still remembers calling Christine Davis, her girlfriend of seven years, on the phone after being inspired to finally make their union official while watching a November 2010 episode of the Oprah Winfrey show, featuring celebrity lesbian couple Ellen DeGeneres and her wife, Portia de Rossi, who wed in 2008.

Although Flores had formally proposed with a ring on bended knee to her girlfriend back in 2004, the couple had been in no rush to get legally married. The two women had participated in an impromptu commitment ceremony in 2008 while on a cruise ship and were already living together with their children,

"I knew I couldn't let this one go," said Flores, 48, while cuddling with her wife on their living room couch. "She had me at the second kiss."

Prohibited from getting married in Texas because of Proposition 2, a 2005 legislatively referred amendment to the state constitution that outlawed both same-sex marriage and civil unions, the Victoria couple traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to get married May 5, making them one of only a handful of homosexual Victoria couples to travel out of state to marry legally.

Iowa is one of only five U.S. states that grant same-sex marriage licenses.

From April 2008, when Iowa began allowing such unions, until April 2009, 2,020 same-sex couples got married, according to the most recent data available from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Of those, 59 couples were from Texas.

Of those 59 same-sex couples from Texas, 36 were couples comprised of two women, and 23 were couples comprised of two men.

The Victoria couple was married by Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson, who in a highly publicized 2007 ruling said Iowa's ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional.

While the exact number of legally married homosexual couples living in the Crossroads is unknown, Flora Hernandez, president of the Victoria chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender group, said she knew at least five couples who got married out of state, with the Floreses being the most recent.

Despite not having their marriage recognized in their home state, the Floreses returned to Texas to live as wife and wife.

Cynthia Flores and Christine Davis-Flores, 35, say not much has changed since making their union official.

The couple's life continues to revolve around their blended family of three boys and three girls - Cheyenne Keith, 14; Kaslyn Keith, 12; Ciara Keith, 15; Christopher Keith, 19; Elisha Martinez, 17; and Miranda Martinez, 27.

"Things are pretty much the same. I've known her pretty much my whole life," Ciara said of Flores. "They just made it official. I've been saying she is my stepmom since I was 8."

Flores, a loss prevention associate at Kohl's, and Davis-Flores, a manager at Chuck E. Cheese's, spend their days working on school functions; dropping their son off at karate practice; picking up Ciara from talent show tryouts; shopping with Cheyenne; or helping all of their children with homework in hopes of bumping up their A/B report cards to straight A's.

They do all of this while balancing their duties as event coordinators for the Victoria GBLT group.

The Flores clan also makes it a point to travel and carve out family night every week, partaking in anything from bowling at Century Lanes, or eating out at the family's favorite restaurants to lounging around the living room and making it a movie night.

The extra push to get legally married came while planning a trip to see Davis-Flores' son Christopher graduate from basic training for the U.S. Navy in Chicago.

With the children in tow, the couple drove the 16 hours to Iowa, the closest state to Illinois that performed same-sex-marriages, got married, and then drove to Chicago to watch Christopher's graduation the following day.

The family faces challenges created by a household headed by a same-sex couple.

Although the couple has life insurance policies through TDECU and continues to receive the same-sex health insurance benefits they have received for years through Kohl's, the women's marital status hasn't changed their financial or legal situation much.

In order to take on her spouse's last name on her Social Security card, Davis-Flores, said she had to apply for the name change through the state of Iowa.

Additionally, now that they are married, the Floreses, who currently have car and bank loans together, do have the option to file their federal taxes jointly, said Davis-Flores.

Even though the women have outlined their final wishes regarding each other in their wills, Flores worries about both the lack of entitlement she would have to property that is in her spouse's name only, as well as the parental rights she would be awarded if something were to happen to Davis-Flores.

"I know two of Christine's three kids want to stay with me," Flores said about her spouse's children, whose father has joint custody of them. "Either way, I still want the right to go see them."

Advocating for gay marriage rights in Texas is at the top of the newlyweds' agenda.

"What they are doing to us now, they did to straight people back then. If you were a white and black couple, you were not allowed to get married," said Davis-Flores, who said she thinks more states will have to adopt same-sex marriage rights before Texas will follow suit. "I have the right to marry whoever I want. I was born with these constitutional rights."

The couple attributes Texas' lack of progression on the same-sex marriage front to a still hefty lack of tolerance for homosexuality.

The couple recalled an incident when they were reprimanded by a female teller at a Victoria credit union for being affectionate as they sat in the drive-thru line.

Angered by the teller's response, the couple immediately closed their accounts with the financial institution.

"I told her, 'I was just sitting here last week kissing my husband, and you didn't say anything then," said Davis-Flores. "It was OK then. But now, it's not OK?"

The negativity has also come from family members who have disapproved of the couple's marriage.

The daughter of a Baptist mother and a father, who was a Pentecostal preacher, Davis-Flores said her family was not readily accepting of her lesbian relationship.

Faced with a pile of growing bills after her divorce, the women and their children moved to Florida in 2005 to stay with Davis-Flores' family until they could get back on their feet.

It soon became clear, however, that the invitation to move in was more of a planned intervention.

"Even then, she was trying to set me up with men in the church," Davis-Flores said about her religious mother. "When I really read the Bible, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah did not say anything about not being a lesbian or being gay. It spoke about not having orgies and raping the angels."

Although most of Flores' family members have come to accept her marriage, her relationship with her mother remains strained.

Despite the negativity received by some, the couple, who hope to one day open a Crossroads center to promote tolerance, has built up a support circle of both homosexual and heterosexual co-workers and friends.

"They love each other, and that's what they wanted to do," said family friend Stephanie Garrett, 31. "Their family is more put together than some of the 'normal' marriages."

The couple's children have also responded positively to the union.

"I'm happy as long as my Mom is happy," said Cheyenne, one of Davis-Flores' daughters. "God made everybody with two of everything, except a heart. That's because the other heart is in the lover you are bound to be with."

Like any other couple, Flores, who is described by her mate as the patient, shy and messy one, and Davis-Flores, the impatient, talkative and organized one, do have their spats from time to time, however, they are seemingly still a good fit for each other.

Because of family and financial reasons, the couple has decided to wait until July 2012 to throw a formal wedding reception.

In the meantime, the women continue to bask in their time as newlyweds, which they consider a blessing.

"It's been eight years, and I still want to spend every waking moment with her," Flores said about her wife. "With her, I truly understand what love means."

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