Drew Martin just wants to marry his fiancé.
The Texas Christian University assistant athletic director proposed to his then-boyfriend, Blake Macon, in the Chapel of Memories at Mississippi State University hours before last season's big football game against Alabama. For the duo, the engagement tempered their disappointment at the 20-7 loss to the Crimson Tide that Saturday afternoon.
Football runs in their blood. The two men are both Mississippi State alums, separated in school by five years. They only became acquainted on Facebook in 2008. With Macon in Washington, D.C., and Martin in College Station, Texas, at the time, they first met face-to-face at the Arkansas-Mississippi State football game in 2008. It only seemed fitting that they would become engaged at the campus they both called home - and do it on a football Saturday.
"I'm not sure I got the full question out of my mouth before he said 'yes,'" Martin said about getting on one knee in the chapel, holding Macon's hand, and popping the question.
Since then, they have struggled to find a way to marry. It should be easy for the Episcopalian couple. They love each other. Their relationship has endured long distances, career moves and, yes, some disappointing seasons for the Bulldogs football team.
Yet their journey to marriage has been anything but easy. Texas has had a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage since 2005. Homosexual activity was banned in the state all together until the Supreme Court invalidated the laws in 2003; The unenforceable law is still on the books in the Texas legal code. The laws banning same-sex marriage were struck down by a Federal judge in February, but the decision was stayed and the legal battle ahead could be long.
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Rules in the Episcopal Church compound the problems. The couple wants to marry legally at the same time they marry in the eyes of their god. Mississippi, where they both attended school, and Tennessee, where Martin was born and raised, don't hold better prospects than Texas: Both states have constitutional amendments against same-sex marriage. For their marriage the couple has settled on Washington D.C., where Blake lived for many years and where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2010. Yet Episcopal Church policy limits weddings only to current or prospective members of the local parish; Because neither of the two men is a current member of any church in D.C., they cannot marry in a church there.
"It's the first time I've ever really felt that I'm a lesser-class of citizen," Martin said.
That's saying a lot. Martin has spent almost all of his career in big-time NCAA sports in the South. After working as a student in the athletic department at Mississippi State in the Nineties, he left to work at the newly incorporated Big 12 Conference in Dallas in 1997. After six months with the Big 12, Martin landed a job as an assistant sports information director at Texas A&M.
It was in College Station that he began to explore his sexual orientation. The first time he told anyone he was gay was at the 1999 Sugar Bowl against Ohio State. He and his roommate - another athletic department employee named Rob - had been drinking alcohol and visiting the straight New Orleans strip clubs. It was their usual routine, but it was one Martin was tiring of. That night he finally got enough liquid courage to tell Rob he felt out of place on their usual tour of the strip clubs - He was gay.
"Are you sure?" Rob asked. Martin was very sure. Rob then conveyed that they were like brothers and nothing would change that. Years later, Martin was the best man in his wedding. When Martin marries, Rob will be his best man.
While the reaction was positive from his roommate in 1999, Martin kept his sexual orientation to himself for years after. He wasn't just in Texas, he was in College Station where at least 55% of voters have voted for an anti-gay Republican Presidential candidate the last four elections. Texas A&M didn't have a GLBT center until 2007 and in 2012 was named the seventh least-friendly college campus for LGBT people (Baylor, with a campus-wide ban on "advocacy groups which promote understandings of sexuality," ranked as more LGBT-friendly than Texas A&M).
Martin wasn't just in College Station, he was in the heart of big-time college sports, the purported bastion of homophobia in America. Texas A&M's storied athletic tradition dates back to the late 1800's when the Aggies football team first took the field in 1894. It's the home of Gene Stallings and Chuck Knoblauch. This was supposed to be the last place in America a gay man could come out.
"I think that's just a perception," Martin said. "From my experience, I don't know why it has that reputation."
Still, Martin buried his feelings inside himself until about 2006, when the mounting sexual attraction he had for other men simply became too much to bury inside himself. He had tried to hide his feelings by focusing his entire life on his career. It wasn't working. Slowly he came out to people at Texas A&M, first in the academic arena and then in athletics. Eventually, he told his entire staff.
"I kept thinking, ‘Wait, it's supposed to be a lot harder than this.' But nobody even blinked. It was funny to me. It was encouraging."
With every person he told, sharing his secret became easier. His courage built as he experienced positive reaction after positive reaction. Every time he came out to someone in the Big 12 sports world, it was a non-issue. At some point he just stopped telling people: His assumed identity became that of a gay man.
After an eight-month stint in Tennessee with Pepsi (to be near his dying father) in 2011-'12, Martin returned to the big-time college sports world as assistant athletic director for Texas Christian University. For Martin there were two big hurdles embodied in the school's name: Texas and Christian. While he had found acceptance at Texas A&M, that was with people who had known him for almost a decade before he came out to them. This time he was bringing a four-year relationship with a male partner with him. People didn't know him already. There was hesitance on his part. Long conversations about repercussions were had. Martin sought counsel from openly gay Forth Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, who gave a famous pro-gay speech to the council (below). Burns assured him he would be accepted by the athletic department.
Ultimately, Martin visited the TCU campus and decided to take the plunge.
Since then, Martin and Macon have experienced an overwhelming amount of acceptance from the people at Texas Christian. The couple has been completely welcomed by the athletic department, embraced as part of the Horned Frog family. During a recent event at the home of head football coach Gary Patterson, Macon wound up chatting at length with the long-time TCU football coach.
"Coach Patterson is just coach Patterson," Macon said. "He has no problems with our relationship or anything like that. His wife loves Drew."
For Martin, it's been a long journey from those self-prescribed closeted days at Texas A&M to living openly with his fiancée in Fort Worth.
"It always makes me feel good," Martin said. "In any new situation, there's always a deep-breath moment of, 'Yes you're asking about my personal life and I'm going go tell you,' and when they give a positive response it's always reassuring.
"I know there are many younger folks who are struggling with this, but virtually every reaction I get gives me hope that it's really changing."
The most troubling moment Martin has ever experienced at TCU was when one administrator asked him when he decided to be gay.
"It wasn't a negative response," Martin said, "it was an honest response. It was just one I wasn't expecting."
Texas Christian athletic director Chris Del Conte said Martin's sexual orientation is a non-issue for him and the TCU athletic department that Martin now calls home.
"It doesn't matter what religious beliefs you have or your sexual orientation," Del Conte said. "College sport is accepting of everyone. When you talk about anything that has happened in sports, when you look at Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King, when you look at social movements, sports have galvanized people. What I care about is, does he treat everyone with respect? Does he represent our university every day with class? That's all I can ask.
"The sexual orientation means nothing to me. The person means everything to me. And Drew is a great person."
That questionable reaction was a whisper in a chorus of acceptance Martin and Macon have experienced in the world of Big 12 sports. Since Martin first came out to people close to him about eight years ago, he has seen the welcoming heart of people in Texas, both in and outside the sports world.
"In my years of being a gay man in a straight mans world in a fraternity at Mississippi State, even in places like Texas A&M and TCU, these kids don't care," Martin said. "It doesn't have to be a dark scary life in the closet. It makes me feel so good. When they learn I'm gay, they just think it's cool. It's very well-accepted and that makes me feel optimistic that this world is heading in the right direction."
Then, a moment of reality about state law in Texas.
"I just wish our politicians were headed in the same direction with their legislation."
That legislation has left Martin and Macon in limbo. Their home state of Texas will not recognize any marriage ceremony they have performed. While their local Episcopal diocese may allow a blessing of the marriage, they have nowhere their wedding will be recognized both by their church and by the state.
Despite the acceptance by the Big 12 sports world, their marriage is on hold.
Macon, who has been openly gay since he was an undergrad at Mississippi State, said the institutionalized discrimination against his impending marriage has been the hardest struggle of being gay. He has found acceptance with all of his fellow Mississippi State alumni. He has found acceptance by Martin's co-workers in the TCU athletic department. Yet the rejection of his relationship by the state government has caused consternation he simply doesn't understand.
"This has been the one point in my life where I really have felt a little different because of these roadblocks," Macon said. "We go back to Mississippi State, it's an SEC school. Our friends know about us. That's Mississippi and no one bats an eye. I'm from Jackson, Mississippi, and my family just doesn't bat an eye. The only thing we have experienced so far is being treated like anyone else.
"But between the law and the church, many people who come to our wedding will be coming to their first same-sex wedding. We're experiencing some problems around that. But to break through the societal boundaries some of us have to make some sacrifices. If we have to get married in two places, then so be it."
The gay couple has even begun conversation with clergy of their church in Ft. Worth, who are potentially supportive. There is the possibility of a religious ceremony there, but it will not be legal because it's in Texas.
For now their plan is to convince a D.C.-based Episcopal church to somehow allow their marriage despite not being members of the parish. Who will perform the ceremony is yet to be determined.
Without a home and without a minister, Martin and Macon are searching for answers. The two Mississippi-State-alums-turned-Texas-Christians will keep looking until they find the right place to commit their lives to one another. All the while, they're proud to have the support of folks in the athletic departments of Texas A&M and TCU.
"If we want to get married legally and in the eyes of God as we understand him, we'll have to travel somewhere for a civil ceremony then try to have the rector at our church bless the marriage," Martin said.
"It doesn't feel right. It's different from what my sister or any of our heterosexual friends have had to do. And I've been in a number of those weddings. There's none of this going to one state to make it legal then going to another state for a big show that isn't legal.
"It doesn't seem fair, it doesn't seem right. It doesn't feel good."
You can reach Drew Martin on Twitter @TCU_Drew. He is also available via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're an LGBT person in sports who wants to share their story, email us at email@example.com. For more on the TCU Horned Frogs, check out Frogs O' War.