Texans I’d Like to Meet: Pioneer Women
By: Piper Meeks, Contributor
Texans have built a reputation of fierce pride for themselves and their land, a fact that has and will likely continue to be unique to the state of Texas. So many native Texans have made their marks in the world, whether through entertainment, politics, government, music or sports. Sure, like everywhere else, we’ve got some characters that maybe we’re not so proud of here, but there’s no denying Texas has its fair share of amazing people to be proud of. Many Texans are equipped with diverse backgrounds and experiences that have provided them with what it takes to make state and national history.
Surely, then, you can imagine my angst when asked to compile a list of twenty Texans I’d like to meet. This is an impossible feat. With more and more Texans making history on a daily basis, a list of only twenty wouldn’t give credit to all that deserve it, making my list inevitably endless. So, I decided to divvy this project up into weekly articles, starting with two very important women that most definitely represent the diversity among Texans.
Judge Tonya Parker
Tonya Parker, a Dallas County Judge, raised controversy in early 2012 when she announced she wouldn’t conduct marriage ceremonies for anyone until she was legally able to do so for same-sex couples. Judge Parker openly admits to being gay, but she claims that this fact is not why she refuses to marry straight couples. According to the newspaper Dallas Voice, she does “not perform them because it is not an equal application of the law – period.” As a seasoned lawyer that has worked both sides of the courts, Judge Parker is beyond familiar with the application – and misapplication – of the law. Not only does she understand the importance of the courts belonging to the people instead of the lawyers, she strives to uphold the idea of the civil courts as the protectors of our fundamental liberties. Before passing a couple along to another Judge, Judge Parker explains her reasoning on why she refuses to conduct the ceremonies:
“I use it as my opportunity to give them a lesson about marriage equality in the state because I feel like I have to tell them why I’m turning them away, so I usually will offer them something along the lines of: ‘I’m sorry. I don’t perform marriage ceremonies because we are in a state that does not have marriage equality, and until it does, I am not going to partially apply the law to one group of people that doesn’t apply to another group of people. And it’s kind of oxymoronic for me to perform ceremonies that can’t be performed for me, so I’m not going to do it.”
She’s got a point, right? It’s important to bear in mind that Judge Parker represents the LGBT community in the predominately red state of Texas, most definitely faced with some forms of criticism for her own personal beliefs as well as the decisions that arise from them. When it comes to the basic rights of Texans, though, Judge Parker is willing to face this criticism at the sake of the people. She uses her position as an elected official to inform and educate the public about how the complexities of law have the ability to affect all people – sex, gender, race, and/or sexual orientation aside. It is not necessary to agree with her decisions to understand the significance of her argument – equality – and how it applies to us all. Judge Tonya Parker may have lost the respect of many for making a choice she felt necessary to uphold the most basic values of a democratic political system, but she gained respect from many too. It’s hard not to admire her courage, strong will and confidence – all of which make her one Texan I would love to meet.
Sandra Day O’Connor
Native Texan Sandra Day O’Connor’s career began as an assistant attorney general in the 1960s in Arizona, where she was later appointed by Arizona Governor Jack Williams to the state senate in 1969. She won two re-elections, but shifted gears in 1974 when she decided to run for the position of Judge in the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona. O’Connor maintained a reputation as an impartial, yet firm, judge. Still, her interest in Republican politics kept her involved in matters outside the courtroom. Two years after she was selected to serve on the state’s court of appeals, former U.S. President Ronald Reagan nominated her for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981. O’Connor received unanimous approval from the U.S. Senate, breaking ground for all American women by obtaining the landmark title of the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
O’Connor served as a pioneer for women on the U.S. Supreme Court for 24 years. Although politically conservative, O’Connor reviewed cases very carefully, often avoiding the roars of politicians in the background and making decisions based on the letter of the law, whether the fair choice fell under her political beliefs or not. In fact, O’Connor was the key swing vote in the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion rights, which her fellow Republicans opposed and sought to reverse. As someone who served as the swing vote in many more notable cases, this objectiveness was crucial for O’Connor.
O’Connor remains a prolific political force in the United States even after retiring from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. Just one example of her continual effort is her website Our Courts. Concerned with the lack of political participation among the youth, O’Connor launched the website in 2009 to educate students and teachers on how the government works. The website, now renamed iCivics, quickly expanded to include free lesson plans and interactive videogames for middle and high school teachers to incorporate in their curriculum.
I think it’s safe to say that President Obama agreed with those that named O’Connor as one of the most powerful women in the world when he awarded her with the highest civilian honor of the United States, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on August 12, 2009. Her dedication, wisdom and integrity together with her title as the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court are exactly why I would love to meet Sandra Day O’Connor, and why Texans should be proud to claim her as a native.
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