NC Literary Hall of Fame



Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas by David Collins

University of North Texas Press
$29.95, hardcover / $23.96, e-book / $27.55, audiobook
ISBN: 978-1-57441-692-3
August, 2017
Nonfiction: Marriage / Law
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"This is the best book on the hugely important topic of gay marriage that I have encountered. The courtroom scenes—beautifully rendered, stirring, enlivened by the novelistic revelation of character—are simply superb and brilliantly handled. I was riveted by the explanations of precedents, accounts of legal tactics, and descriptions of lawyerly performances. Collins movingly captures the two men’s lifelong struggles with shame and self-loathing and, finally, the personal triumph of their confronting the public to claim their right to love in the country they love."
—George Hodgman, author of Bettyville

"I am always anxious when I read accounts of events that I have experienced personally. But from the first page, David Collins' Accidental Activists alleviated my fears. The story of Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, who led the battle for marriage equality in Texas as plaintiffs, remains as true and compelling today as when it happened in real life. And I know since I was there for at least some of it. Reading this book, particularly the description of the court hearing at the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, was (almost) as much fun as doing the argument myself."
—Roberta Kaplan, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and author of Then Comes Marriage: United States v. Windsor and the Defeat of DOMA

"Back in 1997, I was lucky enough to be in San Antonio for an HRC event. Little did I know that Mark and Vic would be on their first date that night—and would come to that event where I would meet them. Little did I know that years later they would make history by fighting for same-sex marriage to be legal in Texas. This beautiful book by Dave Collins tells the story of their struggle to make that happen. I’m so proud of them, so happy for them—and delighted that their inspirational story has been recorded in a book that will keep you turning the pages late into the night."
—Betty DeGeneres, mother of Ellen, was the first straight spokeswoman for the Human Rights Campaign’s National Coming Out Project. She is the author of two books: Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey (Harper, 1999) and Just a Mom (Alyson Books, 2001)

At the beginning of the summer of 2013, same-sex marriage was legal in only ten states and the District of Columbia; in seven more states lawsuits were making their way through the courts. The Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, announced at the end of June, appeared to open the door to marriage equality. In Texas, Mark Phariss and Vic Holmes, together for sixteen years and deeply in love, wondered why no one had stepped across the threshold to challenge their state’s 2005 constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage—until, that is, despite years of conditioning that had taught them to keep a low profile, despite warnings from family and friends who feared for their safety, they agreed to join a lawsuit being put together by Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLD.

Though surprised at their new and very public role—a February 2014 feature about them in Texas Monthly was titled “The Accidental Activists”—they adapted quickly. Two years later—after tense battles in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Texas and in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, after sitting through oral arguments at the Supreme Court of the United States in Obergefell v. Hodges—they won the right to marry deep in the heart of Texas.

But the road they traveled was never easy. Accidental Activists is the deeply moving story of two men who, schooled by cultural messages that being gay would come with heavy costs—the loss of family and friends, threats involving housing and job security, the danger of being beaten, even beaten to death—struggled at first to be true to who they were, struggled later in life to achieve the dignity of which Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke in a series of Supreme Court decisions that recognized the “personhood,” the essential humanity of gays and lesbians. And it is more.

Around the intimate story of two men in love that lies at its center, Accidental Activists weaves other threads that enrich its fabric, setting what is personal in the context of legal and social history—the battle for gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular—and explaining the complex legal issues and developments surrounding same-sex marriage in layman’s terms.

After earning a Ph. D. in English at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, David Collins taught English for forty years at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri (1973-2013). In his years at Westminster, he published more than fifteen scholarly essays, most on Shakespeare or other medieval/Renaissance writers, but including several on Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Langston Hughes. His creative nonfiction essays have appeared in The New Laurel Review, The Hawaii Review, The Chariton Review, Pleiades, Well Versed, Interpretations, and Uncertain Promise. Interviews with two Paris-based American writers, Diane Johnson and Jake Lamar, were published in The AWP Chronicle and Belles Lettres. He has written as well for St. Louis Magazine and Leadership Magazine (including one of his all-time favorites, a reflection on the night Maya Angelou spoke at Westminster College) and for fourteen months authored a column on life in Rwanda for the Fulton Sun.

Two of Collins’s short essays won awards from the Columbia Writers’ Guild, first place for “My Father’s Maps” and second place for “On Carnegie Hill.” Another short essay, “Body Language,” took first place in a contest sponsored by the Compass Flower Press. In July 2016, a chapter from the manuscript for Accidental Activists: Mark Phariss, Vic Holmes, and Their Fight for Marriage Equality in Texas won first place at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference.

With the completion of Accidental Activists, Collins has returned to work on three longterm projects: collecting and editing his creative nonfiction essays for publication in book form, a book-length series of walking tours of literary Paris tentatively titled Parisian Places, American Faces: Walks on the Left Bank with American Writers, and an as yet untitled novel set in Paris in the years that led to the 9-11 tragedy.

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