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State AG opposes law-school friend in gay-marriage suit

Posted Feb 28, 2014 11:32 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott is opposing a former law-school classmate and longtime friend in the battle over gay marriage.

One of the plaintiffs challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage is Mark Phariss, who used to debate law and politics with Abbott when they both attended Vanderbilt Law School, KERA News reports. A federal judge ruled for Phariss and other plaintiffs in striking down the ban on Wednesday.

Phariss told KERA he wasn’t “out” during law school in the early 1980s, but he believes Abbott has long known Phariss is gay. In 1984, when Abbott was partially paralyzed by a falling tree, Phariss flew from a clerking job in Tulsa to join Abbott’s wife and mother at the hospital.

"He was a very good friend then and I consider him a very good friend now,” Phariss said. The two men stayed in contact after law school and still exchange Christmas cards, though they haven’t talked for about 10 years.

Phariss said he’s not taking Abbott’s legal stance personally. KERA notes that after the federal judge’s decision, Abbott released a statement saying “there are good, well-meaning people on both sides.” Phariss said he didn’t know if the conciliatory tone was intended for him. "I sort of heard it a little bit that he was speaking to me and I appreciated it,” he told KERA. “If he was speaking to me it was appreciated."

In response to an interview request from KERA, Abbott released a statement confirming he and his wife were friends with Phariss and expressing appreciation for the hospital visit. "As I said yesterday, there are good, well-meaning people on both sides of this issue," Abbott said. "This shows that Americans can in fact debate substantial issues without being disagreeable."

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