Annise Parker under fire over marriage equality

Posted on 08 Mar 2012 at 5:05pm

Pastor makes headlines with call for lesbian Houston mayor to resign over her support for pledge Dallas’ Mike Rawlings has refused to sign

OUT FRONT | Houston Mayor Annise Parker speaks at a Freedom to Marry Day rally at City Hall on Feb. 14. (Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle)

ANNA WAUGH  |  Staff Writer

HOUSTON — Although a pastor has made it his mission to have out lesbian Mayor Annise Parker step down from her position because of her support for same-sex marriage, Parker is done commenting on the pastor’s remarks and is moving on with her mission for the city.

Senior Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church emailed Parker a letter Feb. 24 that stated his disdain for her signing and promoting the Mayors for Freedom to Marry pledge, writing that she “should do the honorable thing and step down” if she cannot uphold the Texas Constitutional amendment that defined marriage between a man and a women approved in 2005 with 76 percent of votes, 72 percent from Harris County.

Riggle made headlines again this week after reading his entire letter during a church service Sunday, March 4, after reading 25 Bible versions of the Genesis verse that states a man will eventually leave his parents and join his wife “in one flesh.”

Pastor Steve Riggle

A representative from Parker’s office told Dallas Voice this week she is no longer commenting on the pastor’s attacks and will focus on improving Houston’s economy and meeting the needs of the citizens. Parker is one of the five chairs of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry, a group established at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., in January.

Parker has said it’s her duty “to uphold the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I swore an oath to that. I take that oath very seriously, but I have my First Amendment rights to free speech. We all have the right to do that and I’m sorry that they [Riggle and his supporters] don’t understand the Constitution. I’m going to continue to follow my oath of office, lead the city well but speak out on issues that I care about.”

Riggle was unavailable for an interview this week.

“I respectfully request that you not use your office or title to press your personal views and lifestyle on this subject that we, the people, have so clearly spoken,” Riggle said during his sermon, reading from the letter. “Additionally, as our mayor, I would request that you be true to the vow you took to uphold the constitution of the state of Texas and stand for traditional marriage since we, as the citizens of Texas, have expressed by amending our constitution that marriage will be defined as between one man and one woman.”

Riggle then made comments denying that he’s “anti-gay” or a  “gay hater,” and responded to statements from Parker and media outlets for the rest of his time at the pulpit.

Parker issued another, final statement after Riggle’s sermon, writing: “Houston is a city supportive of equal rights and tolerant of opposing opinions — a city where individuals may disagree with one another without being personal.  I am standing with 160 mayors, including other Texas mayors, who have taken the same public position. My focus remains on creating jobs and building a safer city.”

To date, 178 mayors from 32 states and the District of Columbia have signed the pledge, six of them from Texas, including Parker.

The other five Texas mayors who’s signed the pledge — Lee Leffingwell of Austin, Bruce Smiley-Kaliff of Castle Hills, Joe Jaworski of Galveston, Lucy Johnson of Kyle and A. David Marne of Shavano

Park — released a statement Tuesday, March 6, calling it “outlandish and simply wrong that some would call for her [Parker’s] resignation because of her leadership.”

“Across Texas, there is a belief that all Texans deserve lives free from discrimination — equality under the law. Mayor Parker is upholding her duty to the citizens of Houston to provide a community that treats all her citizens with dignity and respect.  She has joined the growing chorus of her colleagues who are speaking out publicly about this. Like us, she is doing it while still maintaining focus on the priorities of her office.”

NOT ALONE | Parker, shown at the Feb. 14 rally, is one of 178 mayors from 32 states and the District of Columbia who’ve signed the pledge, including six of them from Texas. (Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle)

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ refusal to sign the marriage pledge has led to a huge backlash from the LGBT community in North Texas.

Freedom to Marry founder Evan Wolfson wrote in an email to Dallas Voice this week that Parker signed the pledge “to speak out for fairness is a fulfillment of her promise to fight for all families and build a better business climate in Houston.”

“As mayor of one of America’s great cities, and a mother, Mayor Parker knows that marriage strengthens families, and stronger families benefit everyone,” Wolfson wrote. “Government should not be putting barriers in the path of those seeking to care for their loved ones, and it’s terrific that Houston has a mayor willing to speak her mind and stand up for liberty and justice for all.”

Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said Parker has a right to express a personal opinion, comparing her signing the pledge to Gov. Rick Perry holding an anti-LGBT prayer conference in Houston last year.

“Unless Mayor Parker has somehow forced the Harris County Clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, she has done nothing to violate the Texas Constitution,” Freeman wrote in an email to Dallas Voice.

Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which backs openly LGBT candidates nationwide, said Riggle’s church opposed her election to office because she’s a lesbian.

“At every turn they have opposed her administration and her leading the city and so it comes as no surprise that they’re going to look for any opportunity to again try to make her mayoralty more difficult,” he said. “That’s just politics.”

Watch the March 4 Grace Community Church sermon at http://grace.tv/pastoral-response

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This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 9, 2012.

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