Thursday, January 9, 2014


FIVE years ago a popular mayor in a conservative West Texas town made headlines worldwide when he skedaddled away from swearing-in ceremonies and vamoosed across the Rio Grande to Mexico to be with the person he loved ... an illegal immigrant ... a man.

Now J.W. Lown is back in the headlines, spawning an avalanche of hate mail and outrage in the Texas town where he had been mayor ... because he has legally married his partner in Mexico City, where same-sex marriages are recognized.

And the legally wedded couple may soon be able to return to Texas, where the Mexican male spouse will be eligible for a Green Card ... further infuriating conservative West Texans. 

Thanks to a new legal development in the United States that expanded the federal rights of same-sex couples, the nuptials could mean a way out of J.W.'s self-imposed exile — a way back to the West Texas city he still considers home.

The wedding took place at Christmas time in Mexico City. About 20 friends and relatives from both sides of the Rio Grande were on hand for the ceremonies.

The 37-year-old former mayor wiped away a tear as his partner read vows to him, pledging love for a lifetime. 

His new spouse asked not to be identified by name or have his face shown in photos because he still has family living illegally in the US.

"Now I know that my biggest accomplishment is not only to have married a great man," J.W.'s new spouse said.

"My biggest accomplishment will be having found true love," he added. "My biggest accomplishment will indeed also be to make you happy every day of my life."

J.W. responded: "I look forward to spending a wonderful life with you."

It was a concluding step in an epic journey of love, personal turmoil and drastic choices that had begun five years ago for Lown, mayor of the West Texas town of San Angelo.

Besides being the youngest mayor in the town's history, he would have become the longest-serving mayor in San Angelo's history and had been very progressive. 

He was re-elected practically by acclamation in 2009. 

He was being hailed as the best mayor San Angelo has ever had. The West Texas community's 70,000 citizens are almost evenly divided between Anglos and Hispanics, but fundamentalist Christians had dominated local politics ... until J.W. came along.

Joseph W. Lown ... affectionately called J.W. by everybody ... was the embodiment of the bicultural diversity of his beloved hometown San Angelo. His father was Anglo and his mother was born and raised in Mexico. 

So J.W. has dual citizenship and grew up visiting his maternal grandparents in Mexico and speaking Spanish fluently. He also did a stint in the US Peace Corps in Bolivia, where his language skills came in handy.

He was the perfect mayor ... handsome, charming, a communicator who reached out to all the citizens. He instituted sweeping reforms and was planning many more improvements ....

On the day he was to be sworn in for his new term, he suddenly up and high-tailed it off to Mexico to live with a Latin male lover. Talk about a scandal!

Nothing was heard from him for five years until the San Angelo newspaper this week ran a full-color photo spread of the marriage ceremonies as well as candid photos of J.W. in his new hometown of San Miguel de Allende in the central part of Mexico where he is a real estate agent.

Response to the photo spread has been vitriolic and nasty. 

People in San Angelo have cancelled their subscriptions to the paper.

An avalanche of abusive letters and emails poured in, accusing the local newspaper of glorifying pernicious sinfulness and illegal behavior.

Perhaps what most angered people in San Angelo was the prospect that J.W. and his spouse might soon be able to return to town as a legally wedded couple.

When J.W. left San Angelo in May 2009, the best hope he and his partner had of returning to the U.S. one day was to apply for a tourist visa, a process that could have taken 10 years.

In June 2013, however, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. The decision also meant the federal government could use same-sex marriage as consideration for immigration status.

With the marriage, the couple could get back into the U.S. within a year and a half if everything goes well, and five years at worst. Then they could get permanent residency and a green card for J.W.'s spouse.

On his wedding day, J.W. contemplated his future.

"This is not the end," J.W. said after the emotional ceremony. "This is the beginning."

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