The Harmony Wedding Chapel at 8120 Gulf Freeway has been one of Houston’s most familiar freeway-side landmarks for 50 years, a little slice of backstreet Las Vegas that has now provided 5 generations with cheap, often hastily-arranged weddings. (Even today a bare-bones ceremony with no guests is a mere $50.)
But as the site of the first gay marriage in Texas, it is a landmark in American LGBT history too. There on the banks of Sims Bayou, on October 6, 1972, Brownsville-bred former high school football player Antonio Molina married William “Billie” Ert, a female impersonator who performed in local nightclubs as “Mr. Vicki Carr,” in tribute to the El Paso-bred singer. (One such spot was Ursula’s, a lesbian-friendly bar at 1512 W. Alabama, the future home of a succession of failed restaurants and now the home of the Skin Renewal Center.)
Handing over a wedding certificate Ert obtained by appearing in front of court clerks in very convincing drag, the couple exchanged vows before an activist chaplain they had brought in, and sealed them with a kiss. A firestorm awaited them outside the chapel’s Gulf Freeway feeder road-facing doors.
The wedding was covered in papers as far away as Singapore. The duped county clerk declined to record the wedding certificate, rendering the marriage void. Ert was threatened with prison time for listing himself as female on the wedding certificate. The couple split the next year, and Ert attempted suicide. (Ert passed away from unrelated causes three years after that, in 1976; Molina died in 1991.)
Intervening years have been kinder to the idea of gay marriage than they have to Harmony Wedding Chapel’s surroundings. Houstonia’s Kerry H. visited the chapel earlier this year, where chaplain and building owner Simon Cruz told the reporter that while business is brisk within the kitschy and quaint chapel, its immediate environs have been in decline for 20 years, with rowdies staking their claim to the underside of a nearby bridge and the chapel’s backyard prowled by feral cats.
- Unlikely gay marriage pioneers tied knot in Houston [Houston Chronicle]
- Houston’s Quickie Wedding Chapel Turns 50 [Houstonia]