Advocates bothered by frontrunner’s failure to publish policy statement
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami came out in support of same-sex marriage this week, and he again challenged frontrunner Bill White to issue a policy statement on LGBT issues.
Shami, the Houston hair care tycoon who’s viewed as White’s most formidable challenger in the March 2 primary, released a comprehensive policy statement in support of LGBT equality last week. Shami’s statement — nearly identical to one published previously by Hank Gilbert, a Democrat who’s running for agriculture commissioner — proposes repealing Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and granting civil unions to gay and lesbian couples.
But between appearances at meetings of LGBT groups in Dallas on Tuesday night, Jan. 26, Shami went a step further.
"Gay people can suffer the same way as straight people," he joked when asked whether he supports same-sex marriage.
"On my clock, gay people will be able to come to the Capitol and get married on the steps of the Capitol," Shami said outside Hungdinger, a restaurant on the Cedar Springs strip where headdressed to Dallas’ gay LULAC council.
Shami added that social issues would be among his top priorities as governor, along with jobs, education and health care. He noted that the hair care products industry, in which he’s made his fortune, is dominated by gay men.
"I’ve been in this business with gay people for 44 years, so that is an important subject for me," said the Palestinian-born Shami, adding that he views LGBT rights in the same context as the rights of other minority groups.
Shami said White’s failure thus far to release a policy statement on LGBT issues is telling, and that the former Houston mayor "will never come close" to his support for gay rights.
"Like with everything, he talks and does not fulfill," Shami said of White.
Katy Bacon, a spokeswoman for White’s campaign, said it was unclear this week if or when he plans to issue a policy statement on LGBT issues.
"It’s easy to talk and make promises, but Bill White has a track record of inclusive leadership and action," Bacon said in response to Shami’s statements. "Throughout his life, he has worked on behalf of civil rights for all groups, including the LGBT community. … As governor, Bill will promote equality, opportunity and respect for all Texans. He will work with LGBT Texans to understand the community’s legislative priorities so that efforts are targeted and effective."
Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, one of the largest LGBT political groups in Texas, endorsed White last week after Shami’s campaign failed to respond to the group’s invitation for an interview. Shami’s campaign has said the failure to respond was due to an "organizational error."
Stonewall President Erin Moore said this week that although she stands behind the group’s endorsement of White, she thinks Shami’s support for same-sex marriage is a good sign.
"I don’t know that it will help his [Shami's] campaign any, of course, but it does certainly speak to a large constituency in Texas, and I think people are getting more progressive about those sorts of issues, and not being as afraid to state their positions," Moore said. "I’m encouraged by it. I think the more people talking about it in campaigns, the easier it will be to actually take a stand on the right side of this issue."
Moore said gay leaders have asked White several times to publish a policy statement on LGBT issues, but his response thus far has been "a typical political answer."
"I think he’s afraid of how it would affect his chances [of winning]," Moore said. "As a challenger, you can take more risks. As frontrunner, you kind of have to protect your territory. Bill’s position on LGBT rights has never been in question, but I do wish he would make it part of his policies. It’s a little disappointing, but it’s not at all a challenge to our endorsement."
White may be reluctant to take formal positions in support of gay rights given a possible November race against Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who’s successfully used social issues to energize his right-wing base.
The Republican Party of Texas has already launched an Internet attack ad saying White is "too liberal for Texas" and alleging that he supports same-sex marriage.
The allegation was based on White’s statement that he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Same-sex marriage was already prohibited by a 2003 Texas statute, and White has said he believes the constitutional amendment was an example of wedge politics.
A Texas Lyceum poll released last summer found that while 57 percent of Texans support some form of same-sex relationship recognition, such as civil unions, only 25 percent support marriage equality.
To view Shami’s policy statement on LGBT issues, go to www.dallasvoice.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 29, 2010.