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Marriage Equality

PHOTOS: Meet the Men Taking on Texas's Marriage Ban

PHOTOS: Meet the Men Taking on Texas's Marriage Ban

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Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss want to get married, so they sued the state of Texas. Braden Summers fills in the romantic details with his moving photographs to prove All Love Is Equal.

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Vic Holmes and Mark Phariss, in love and together for more than 17 years, applied for a marriage license in Texas in October 2013. When they were turned down, they and another couple sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of its ban.

"We're a couple whether Texas considers us one or not," Phariss tells The Advocate. "And being able to marry will signal to the world that our relationship is equal, no better and no worse, to everyone else's. Having the love we feel for each other recognized as just as valid as the love every other married couple shares will be incredibly liberating."

Seeking that liberation, Holmes and Phariss are fighting to secure the right and freedom to marry for all Texans, regardless of sexual orientation -- the same rights and freedoms which Holmes fought to protect for nearly 23 years as he served in the U.S. Air Force. Having retired as a major, Holmes currently teaches medicine at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth and provides home-based medical services for special-needs patients, while Phariss is a corporate attorney in Plano. The couple have called Plano home since 2003, and Phariss has been a Texas resident for 30 years. Their day-to-day lives are a wonderful mix of mundane and majestic.

"We dote on our beagles -- Abby, Betsy ,and Jake, all of whom we've rescued," says Phariss. "We have good friends and mostly supportive families. We have traveled the world together -- we have been to both polar regions, Antarctica and the Arctic, and to every continent. We have good jobs that challenge us. And we're happy to be a part of a lawsuit that we hope did make and will make a difference."

They are already planning their wedding and look forward to the day when, surrounded by friends and family, they can place a ring on each other's finger, look each other in the eye, say "I do," and call each other spouses -- all in the state they love and call home.

Phariss and Holmes moved one step closer to that reality in February 2014, when a federal judge ruled in their favor, finding Texas's marriage ban unconstitutional. Republican leadership in Texas appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The couple attended the Fifth Circuit's hearing of that appeal January 9 and are awaiting the judges' decision. They are also filing an amicus brief in support of marriage equality in the cases currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Advocate spoke with Phariss and Holmes in an exclusive interview aimed at sharing the couple's love story, alongside #AllLoveIsEqual photographer Braden Summers's romantic portraits of the couple in their beloved home state.

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"Marriage was one of the things that we had to give up when we accepted we were gay," Phariss says. "This was very hard for us because we both come from families whose parents were deeply in love and were married for a long time. My parents were married for 46 years and died within two months of each other. Vic's mother and stepfather, the man Vic considers his real father, just celebrated their 36th wedding anniversary. Vic remembers the difficulties they endured together, supporting each other. Vic wanted someone he could count on as well, a relationship as strong as his parents'. But neither of us thought that was possible when we first started dating. Now we do and it is finally going to happen!"

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All Love Is Equal is a photographic series that challenges the social construct of "iconic romance," explains photographer Summers. "It is meant to call attention to the lack of commercial imagery that focuses on the idealization of same-sex couples. A large driving force behind creating this series was actually less about affecting the gay community directly, and more about giving the general population a way to relate to gay imagery that is devoid of sex, victimization, or banality -- themes that might usually prevent some folks from connecting. The photographs are not documentations; they are dreamy illustrations of what open expressions of love in different cultures could look like in a future, more accepting time."

"Mark and Vic's love story was an amazing assignment for me, and the beautiful landscape of Texas as backdrop was incredibly inspirational," Summers continues. "We are all looking forward to a day soon when every expression of love is not only accepted, but celebrated."

For more information and more of Summers's photography, visit www.bradensummers.com

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"We knew someone had to sue Texas to marry," says Phariss. "We looked around and saw no one else was doing it."

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"Before the suit was filed, we got cold feet numerous times and considered backing out," Phariss tells The Advocate. "But looking back, we're glad we didn't."

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