The Norman Transcript

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March 1, 2014

Gay marriage fight pits Texas AG against friend

(Continued)

WACO, Texas —

“When the constitution is upheld, we’re all winners,” Abbott said.

Abbott said Friday he only realized Phariss was gay when his name appeared on the lawsuit, and said Phariss’ sexuality doesn’t change his opinion of him.

“It shows that on some of the hot-button issues of the day, we can have a civil discourse without harsh rhetoric,” Abbott said.

Phariss and Abbott first met at Vanderbilt Law School. Phariss described two southerners — Phariss is from Oklahoma — and ideological opposites drawn together by their enjoyment of discussing politics over breezy dinners.

After leaving Vanderbilt, Abbott was crushed by a falling tree in Houston while out jogging. He was permanently paralyzed from the waist down, and upon hearing the news, Phariss flew to the hospital and spent two days with Abbott. He bought books to help him pass the time and kept Abbott’s wife and mother company. A year later, Phariss said Abbott helped line up a job offer for him.

In the 1990s, when Abbott entered politics and was elected a state judge and later a Texas Supreme Court justice, he flew to San Antonio for a campaign stop. Phariss picked him up at the airport and drove him to meetings and a fundraiser.

Phariss, now 54 and an attorney near Dallas, said he was not openly gay at Vanderbilt. He dated girls and didn’t ask out men, and didn’t publicly reveal he was gay until his mid-30s.

Phariss said that while he and Abbott never discussed gay rights, he never detected hatred from his friend — who is now one of Texas’ most conservative political leaders.

“I don’t perceive from him any animus toward gay people,” Phariss said. “I do remember, either in law school or after, (talking) about someone we thought might have been gay — we just kind of speculated whether a certain person might be gay. He didn’t seem to have an issue with that.”

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