City Reporter 

City Reporter

Long Road to the Altar

Immigrants in Memphis Must Bypass Laws To Get Married.

By Rebekah Gleaves

Edwin and Eber were high school sweethearts. They met while attending the same school here in Memphis and like countless couples before them, they dated all the way through school, fell in love, and planned to marry someday.

Now each is 20 years old, out of school, and living thousands of miles from his native country of Guatemala and hers of Mexico. They wanted to marry in the only city they both call home, the city where they met and where they plan to live out their lives. But in this forbidden love story, there are no Montagues and no Capulets. The only force stopping Edwin and Eber from being married in Memphis is the Shelby County requirement that each person has a Social Security number to get a marriage license.

A legal resident of Tennessee, Edwin recently succeeded in getting his driver's license, after taking the test a grueling 11 times. But he knows that no amount of studying or waiting in long lines would grant him a marriage license in Shelby County. Though Edwin is a legal resident, Eber is not. Even as a legal resident, Edwin cannot get married in this county without a Social Security number, which he does not have.

So, Edwin and Eber asked Garland Reed, a Spanish language interpreter, to take them across the Mississippi River to Marion, Arkansas. There a justice of the peace would grant them a license and perform the ceremony after each showed two forms of legal identification, neither of which had to be a Social Security card.

"I have personally taken many couples across the bridge into Arkansas to get married," says Reed. "They have to have two forms of legal I.D. Usually they have a state I.D. and a translated, notarized copy of their birth certificate. Several justices of the peace in Arkansas have told me that Hispanics come from cities all over Tennessee to get married there."

Edwin, a shy and wiry young man who earns a living moving packages in a warehouse, was insistent that he and Eber get married.

"I didn't want to just live with her," he says looking down, embarrassed. "I wanted to honor her with marriage."

The law requiring a Social Security number poses a problem for religious organizations as well as private residents. Most major religions encourage parishioners to marry, but ministers cannot circumvent state regulations. The Catholic faith, which serves much of the immigrant community in Memphis and has six churches with mass offered in Spanish, is particularly adamant that couples marry. Nevertheless, there is little a clergyman in any faith can do to legally marry a couple in Shelby County when the couple does not qualify for a license.

"If the two parties can't get a marriage license in Shelby County, then any minister in the county -- by that I mean priests, rabbis, anyone -- cannot marry them," says Father Joseph Tagg, head of the marriage tribunal for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis. "We cannot subvert state laws."

He continues, saying, "So we take them out of the county into Tipton or Gibson Counties. There they only require an address, and they only require a birth certificate if one of the parties is a minor. We had a situation last year where a priest met the couple in Tipton County after they got a marriage license and he married them there."

However, Father Tagg does say that this is not a problem the Church faces often.

Deacon Curtiss Talley, who is director of multicultural ministries for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis and who serves on Mayor Willie Herenton's multicultural and religious affairs committee, says that often the Church does not meet these couples until after they are already married.

"Usually couples are already married and since the Church requires that the marriage be blessed, they come to us to ask for a blessing," says Talley. "But each church handles these blessings on a case-by-case basis, and there's not that many people asking for them."

As for Edwin and Eber, their love story has a happy, if protracted, ending. They were married that day in Arkansas and the state of Tennessee must recognize that union. Even now that the ordeal is behind them, they remain miffed by all they had to go through just to get married.

"Of course it was difficult for us," says Edwin. "We think it is strange that we cannot get married here like other people can."

"A Different Day and Age"

Gay and Lesbians Meet with the Memphis Police Department.

By Mary Cashiola

Len Piechowski says he tells the story often, if only just to apologize.

Eleven years ago, he says he was jogging in Overton Park when he came upon a couple of police officers beating up a man.

"They were screaming some strong anti-gay rhetoric and I realized what I was seeing was a gay-bashing by the Memphis Police Department," says Piechowski. He didn't know what to do or who to call when the police were the perpetrators.

But addressing a town hall meeting sponsored by the Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center and the Memphis Lesbian & Gay Coalition for Justice, and featuring a panel that included members of the Memphis Police Department, Piechowski says, "This is a different day and age."

Ranging from such topics as public sex to police officers' accountability, the forum focused on the relationship between the Memphis Police Department and the Memphis gay and lesbian community.

"In the past there have been problems," says Memphis Lesbian & Gay Coalition for Justice co-chair Jim Maynard. "Some people have had experiences where the police don't take seriously their calls about domestic violence. Or there has been some insensitivity with some police officers."

But for the most part, Sunday night's meeting met with enthusiasm on both sides.

"The police department is very focused on helping the community as a whole," Executive Major Steve Cole of the West Precinct told the crowd. "If you'll be open with us, you'll be impressed and proud of the Memphis Police Department. You'll find the department is your friend."

Officer Charles Hill echoed that sentiment. As part of the West Precinct's Neighborhood Watch program, Hill says that the department has no problem with him being a representative for the department and openly gay.

After joining the force in 1998, he says he expected some sort of negative reaction.

"I waited and I waited and nothing ever happened," says Hill.

But while the department seemed supportive of the community, Maynard says he saw some raised eyebrows from people in the crowd who have a negative view of the police.

"I hear a lot of negative things and people tend to blame the whole police department," Maynard says. It's a charge he says is unfair.

"The police department is supportive of us, but there are probably individual police officers who are prejudiced and bigoted."

The Memphis Lesbian & Gay Coalition for Justice is a civil rights organization that was started after University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepherd's murder in 1998. Maynard says the dialogue between the police and the Coalition for Justice grew out of interest over the department's recent sting operations.

"We were interested in the possible entrapment of gay men and we wanted to make sure that wasn't occurring," says Maynard.

In light of recent arrests made at Overton Park and Oak Court Mall, law enforcement on the panel explained the difference between a sting operation and entrapment and addressed the incidents.

"These cases were spurred on by complaints from citizens," says Hill. "This isn't the police department saying, 'Hey, there are some gay people, let's go and grab them.'"

The police pointed out that in both locations children are present; the area in Overton Park is no more than 200 feet from a playground.

But the meeting seemed to go over well; both the coalition and the police department expressed interest in working together in the future.

"The police need to be trained to deal with gay and lesbian people," says Maynard, "and we want to make sure that's happening."

city beat

Memphis and the NBA

The inspiration and road map for success actually came from Jacksonville.

by John Branston

While the NBA Now team was certainly well aware of the success of major-league sports in Nashville, the inspiration and road map for landing the Grizzlies actually came from another peer city, Jacksonville.

The Jacksonville MSA of 1.1 million people is roughly the same as Memphis. Like Memphis, Jacksonville is a border city with just one major-league team. Jacksonville beat out Memphis for an NFL expansion team in 1993 by making a richer bid with a better stadium.

And finally, there was a key Jacksonville-Memphis connection. Daniel Connell, senior vice president of marketing for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, was the college roommate of Mason Hawkins, chairman of the board of Southeastern Asset Management, the Memphis-based mutual fund company. Connell now serves on Southeastern's board.

Hawkins and Staley Cates, president of Southeastern, began exploring the possibilities of Memphis getting an NBA team over a year ago. The first target was the Charlotte Hornets. When the focus shifted to the Vancouver Grizzlies, Connell's advice and the positive Jacksonville experience served as a road map for Cates, who is a minority owner of the Grizzlies.

"If you did it the Jacksonville way, which is our comparable, [a major-league team] has a huge impact," says Cates. "We watched it happen through the eyes of Dan Connell."

With a reputation as picky "value" investors, Cates and Hawkins quietly laid the groundwork for the NBA. They met with FDX Corp. CEO Fred Smith, who agreed to bring in FedEx on a purely commercial basis. The public face of NBA Now -- the mayors, Pitt and Barbara Hyde, the chamber of commerce -- took it from there.

There weren't any great secrets to be learned from Jacksonville, which was an expansion city in the NFL as opposed to a relocation city in the NBA. But the similarities to Memphis, combined with the business expertise and modest egos of the Longleaf team, provided an extra layer of confidence and credibility in the crunch.

"The Jaguars helped Jacksonville be better recognized with companies that were looking to expand or relocate businesses," says Connell. "As an example, after we won the franchise we ran a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal with a helmet in the center that said look inside the head of the NFL and see why they picked Jacksonville. At that time, Jacksonville might not have even had the level of recognition that Memphis had."

Since the Jaguars took the field in 1995, Jacksonville has enjoyed a growth spurt, coincidentally or not.

"The NFL gets the initial inquiry from site selectors," says Connell. "The key thing is to get on that list of companies that the site selectors are going to query for information. Then at least you have a chance to sell yourself."

Connell also shared his thoughts about sports and civic self-esteem with the Memphians.

"A lot of people have taken their disposable dollars and put them into Jaguars tickets instead of somewhere else, so we wanted to give back in a big way. It doesn't always have to be money. If a player talks about the importance of staying in school or staying off drugs you've brought a new hero or role model to the city."

The love affair between a city and a team (and, it should be noted, the Jaguars won early and often) in building the community is a nice story, but Connell says being the only game in town "puts extra pressure on the team," even more so for the NBA with a 12-man roster compared to an NFL team's 53-man roster.

If he were advising the Grizzlies, he would tell them this:

"The community needs to support the team, and I say that more for the community than for the ownership. I would like to think that community leaders feel some level of responsibility to help sell season tickets. The Grizzlies can put ads in the papers, but if community leaders are out there advocating and encouraging people to step up, that is where you are going to have the greatest opportunity for success."

Connell's not sure what, if any, impact his friendship with Hawkins and Cates had on the Memphis, but "wherever you got all your information, you obviously did it the right way."

Tennessee's Worst Intersections Can Be Found On Winchester

Driving down Winchester? Watch yourself.

In a report released by State Farm Insurance, the road was cited for four of the five most dangerous intersections in Tennessee.

Winchester and Riverdale topped the company's Danger Index for Tennessee intersections, followed by Winchester and Mendenhall; Winchester and Kirby Parkway; and Winchester and Hickory Hill.

"We want to make motorists aware of the danger involved in these intersections," says Shawn Johnson, a spokesman for the company. "We want it to stay in their minds when they drive these intersections."

The report, based on claims by State Farm policyholders and adjusted according to the percentage of State Farm insured vehicles in each area, not only looked at the number of crashes but how many of those involved injuries and the severity of the crash.

"The key to this is to improve safety," says Johnson.

State Farm is offering $5 million in grants to communities for intersection safety studies.

"We want to help these cities use their tax dollars wisely," says Johnson. "That's why we're offering grants to have in-depth safety studies done. These safety studies should tell us why Winchester Road is having a number of these problems."

The other most dangerous intersection in Tennessee was also in Memphis, at Summer Avenue and Sycamore View. -- Mary Cashiola

Apartment Elevator Woes Continue for Memphis Woman

Last November the Flyer interviewed Melinda Jones, 25, after learning that her muscular dystrophy was not keeping her homebound. The dysfunctional elevators in her Pauline Place apartments were.

Confined to a wheelchair, Jones lives on the seventh floor of the apartment complex. Property owners Makowsky and Ringel were aware of the faulty elevators but were unable to repair them until the middle of November due to contract complications, says CEO Jimmy Ringel.

But problems remained. On May 22nd Jones started to get on the elevator when her wheelchair tipped over backward. The elevator doors opened and closed on her until another resident heard her cries for help.

"It was a combination of the elevator being four or five inches above my floor and the elevator closing so fast," Jones says.

Now Jones is suffering from head and back injuries. According to her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. William Warner, and her muscular dystrophy specialist, Dr. Masanori Igarashi, Jones' recurring pain is a result of the accident and not her chronic illness. Warner suggests that Jones undergo spinal surgery to correct the injuries.

Jones' attorney, Michael Pfrommer, is filing complaints that Makowsky and Ringel have still not taken adequate steps to repair the elevator even after Jones' fall.

"My understanding is that the door closed too soon on her and this incident is not connected to the same unlevel issue as last fall," Ringel says. "We're sorry she has not had a good experience there and feel badly it has not worked out for her."

Jones has since moved to Bellevue Towers, where she is able to move from one floor to another without taking any risks.

"I am so happy to be somewhere where I am safe," Jones says. "It's a real nice place and the elevators work like a charm." -- Hannah Walton

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