Gay Dallas advocate Jack Evans, who made national headlines when he and his 56-year partner became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in Dallas County, passed away today after a battle with lung cancer. He was 86.
When Evans came out in 1956, there was no gay rights movement to speak of. But by the time he passed away Friday morning—just days before his first wedding anniversary with husband George Harris—he had witnessed a half century of dramatic changes for LGBTQ Americans.
Rev. Eric Folkerth, a pastor at the couple’s Northaven United Methodist Church, remembered Evans’ impact on the LGBTQ community in an announcement of his passing on Facebook:
Jack and George had a remarkable 56 years together. Jack was gregarious, funny, a strong believer in social justice, and a mentor to generations of LGBTQ people, and their straight allies. He lived through remarkable social change for LGBTQ people, marveled at those changes, and was a key part in those social changes happening.
Evans and his husband Harris—who met in 1961—founded the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, were involved with The Dallas GLBT History Project, and gained national attention when they became the first same-sex couple to legally wed in Dallas County.
But those victories were hard fought. While LGBTQ communities now enjoy public block parties in cities across the country, the couple told D Magazine in 2014 that they saw people get arrested at house parties in the 1960s.
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“Our real focus has been our legacy for the community, that our whole lives have been trying to improve, to encourage the young people to make a difference,” Harris said. “They think they can walk down Cedar Springs holding hands, and it’s just automatically come to that, but there was a lot of struggle to get there.”
But they did get there. The couple would have celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Sunday. Watch the couple’s wedding ceremony in the video below, via Lonestar Q.