TYLER, Texas — As the owner of the fickle witch, Raynie Castaneda performs tarot and oracle readings, but Sunday in downtown Tyler, she did something new: a Marriage-A-Thon for couples in the LGBTQ community.
“I really just want to fill Tyler with joy and a mutual understanding of love and how we're all human — there's no wrong love,” Castaneda, who identifies as non-binary, said.
More than 30 people attended the event, which ran from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and five couples got married. The guest list was an open invitation to those in the LGBTQ community, allies and even passersby who wanted to celebrate.
The weddings included live music from a harpist and cakes donated by Cedar Creek Cookie Company.
And the decor? Rainbow themed, of course.
The event was more than just a celebration of marriage and love — it was a peaceful protest of the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who Castaneda says poses a threat to LGBTQ+ rights.
“This is a peaceful, loving demonstration in response to that,” Castaneda said. “It's saying that you cannot outlaw love. You cannot repeal, revoke love. You can say all day long that you're going to, but at the end of the day, LGBTQ people will still exist, and they're still going to love, whether you approve of it or don't.”
Barret, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court on Oct. 26, has riled LGBTQ+ activist groups and allies across the country. Her history as a judge has pointed that she would likely rule against progressive LGBTQ+ stances, as she is a devout Catholic and signed a letter in 2015 addressed to Catholic bishops that included a statement about “marriage and family founded on the indissoluble commitment of a man and a woman.”
One of her first oral arguments after being confirmed, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, is a legal battle over whether the Constitution protects the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds. The case is still pending judgment.
Jenna Rose, a transwoman, and her fiance, Tonia Casteneda (no relation to Raynie), have only been engaged a few months but decided to get married at the event because they fear what could happen to their rights within the next few years since the Supreme Court now has a conservative majority.
“We're not sure whether we can wait another year because, by that time, we may not be able to get married,” Rose said. “If something happens to one of us, we can't make decisions over their life … what's gonna happen with our child if we can't get married?”
Recently, the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council voted to reverse a rule change earlier this year that would have allowed social workers to turn away clients who are LGBTQ+. But the fact that the discrimination happened, Rose said, is proof that LGBTQ+ rights are in a perilous position.
Rose’s fiance, Tonia, says she’s also scared, but she is more excited to get married and celebrate with the LGBTQ+ community than fearful.
But, she said, that doesn’t mean she’s forgotten how difficult being queer in East Texas can be.
“There is a lot of people that do have to be closeted and everything because around here, it is hard to be out and open,” she said. “Like me just walking around with [Rose] holding hands. A lot of people are just not accepting, especially, with trans people.”
Rose pointed to high rates of LGBTQ+ teen suicides and recounted having been threatened herself in East Texas. Meetings like this where those within the queer community can gather, she said, “is life-saving.”
“The importance of community, the absolute necessity of having an open and visible community for queer and trans people cannot be overstated,” Rose said. “It simply cannot. It is absolutely necessary.”
Hannah Crabtree, another attendee who identified as bisexual, agreed.
“I have known that I'm bisexual since middle school, but I've never like really had a strong community … This is kind of like my first-ever LGBT meetup,” Crabtree said. “And it's just nice to have my people … It's just very validating to know that like, I'm not the only one here in East Texas that's the way I am.”
Being able to create that space for the LGBTQ+ community in East Texas even if only for a day, Castaneda said, “is wild.”
“Even if it's not a huge event, we have made history here together in the center of town,” she said. “We're unignorable; you can't pray this away ... we're here, we exist, and we're proud of it.”
Castaneda says more than anything, she wants to create bridges and show solidarity with marginalized communities.
“We are worried that we will get anger or backlash or people kind of thinking that what we're doing is wrong, but mostly, I believe in my community,” Castaneda said. “I know that at the heart of it, we are big-hearted, big-loving people and when we understand each other, that's when we're able to share that love.”