After meeting privately for nearly two hours with about 25 people from the LGBT community, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on Saturday afternoon refused to rule out the possibility of reversing course and signing a pledge in support of same-sex marriage.
“To be a great city we have to have everybody feel a part of it,” Rawlings told a throng of news reporters as he left Resource Center Dallas, where the closed-door meeting took place. “Obviously, the LGBT community feels at times that they’re disenfranchised. They don’t have the civil rights that the rest of us have, and so it was a wonderful learning experience for me, listening to personal stories, listening to policy issues, and listening to strategies of how we can make sure this community feels better next year than it does today. The arc of history is working for the rights of this community, and we as citizens and as the City Council want to support that.”
Asked whether he might still change his mind and sign the marriage pledge, Rawlings referred to himself as “pledge-phobic.”
“I think that America’s got too many pledges out there, and I think it’s simplistic and not substantive,” he said. “I’m a mayor that wants to be substantive. I do care about the civil rights of all of our citizens and will think about how we can make Dallas a better place for that.”
Pressed for a yes-or-no answer, Rawlings said: “I’m not going to take a pledge never to sign a pledge, but I don’t like to sign pledges.”
During the meeting, Rawlings reiterated his personal support for marriage equality and again attempted to explain why he chose not to sign the pledge, unveiled last week by the national group Freedom to Marry. About 100 mayors from across the country have signed the pledge, including those from all eight U.S. cities larger than Dallas.
Rawlings has come under fire from Dallas’ LGBT community for refusing to sign the pledge — and for some of the language he has used to explain his rationale to the media, including repeated statements by the mayor that the issue is “irrelevant” for the city. On Friday night, about 100 people gathered outside City Hall for a protest to call on Rawlings to sign the pledge.
“I”m not trying to say it’s not a big issue because I understand that it is,” Rawlings said at the outset of Saturday’s meeting.
“If the city had the right to marry you, I would vote yes,” Rawlings told the group. “But in this case I chose to step back from the symbolism — because that’s what it was — and not get into that fray.”
In retrospect, Rawlings said, his decision not to sign the pledge may have been the right one and may have been the wrong one. But either way, he said he takes ownership for it. The mayor also said his biggest mistake was not calling Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, to discuss the issue before deciding whether to sign.
Cox, who initiated Saturday’s meeting, said afterward she was glad the community got to have an open discussion with the mayor about the issue. Cox said although it would be “incredibly powerful” for Rawlings to sign the pledge, she’s not counting on it.
“Even if he doesn’t sign the pledge, we still have business to take care of, so we have to find a way to move forward,” Cox said.
Patti Fink, president of the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance, said after the meeting that “dialogue is always good.” But Fink added: “I think the proof’s in the pudding. We’ll see what happens going forward. I think he needs a lot of education.”
Daniel Cates of GetEQUAL, who organized Friday night’s rally, said his group will continue to pressure the mayor to sign the pledge.
“I think it was more double-talk,” Cates said of Rawlings’ comments during the meeting. Cates said he’s encouraging people to speak about the matter at the regular City Council meeting next Wednesday, Feb. 8.