Rawlings won’t budge on marriage pledge

Dallas mayor says decision not to sign document puts him in position to advocate for LGBT equality among religious conservatives

STANDOFF  | A pro-LGBT protester, left, squares off with an anti-gay counterprotester during a “Sign the Pledge” rally organized by GetEQUAL outside Dallas City Hall on Jan. 27. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said this week that he has no plans to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage anytime soon.

But Rawlings added that he believes his decision not to sign the pledge puts him in a position to advocate on behalf of LGBT civil rights among religious conservatives in Dallas.

Rawlings, who claims he personally supports legalizing same-sex marriage, has come under fire from the LGBT community for refusing to sign the pledge from the national group Freedom to Marry.

Rawlings has argued that the pledge — which now bears more than 100 signatures from mayors across the country — creates a divisive and partisan social issue that falls outside the mayor’s scope.

“I’m not going to sign it at this point, and part of it is because of the reaction that I’ve gotten throughout the whole community, and I realize whether people appreciate it or not, that I’m in a very interesting position where I can convene a lot of great dialogue because of the position that I’ve taken,” Rawlings told Dallas Voice during an exclusive interview in his office on Tuesday, Jan. 31. “After thinking about it, it’s probably the best thing that I kind of stick by my position here, but also do what I said in that meeting, which is work hard to figure out how I can best help this [the LGBT] community to gain the civil rights they need.”

Rawlings was referring to a meeting last Saturday, Jan. 28, which he attended with about 25 LGBT leaders at Resource Center Dallas, in response to his refusal to sign the pledge.

The meeting included several longtime local same-sex couples, including Jack Evans and George Harris, and Louise Young and Vivienne Armstrong.

Over the nearly two-hour meeting, which was at times heated and emotional, the couples and other LGBT leaders told Rawlings their stories and made their case as to why they feel the mayor should sign the pledge.

Outside the Resource Center following the meeting — which came the morning after about 100 LGBT protesters had gathered at City Hall — Rawlings wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he would change his mind. But 72 hours later, he hadn’t budged.

“I don’t see myself changing in the short-term,” Rawlings said Tuesday. “I think if there was another movement that I could understand what it was going to accomplish better, I might join that entity. It’s not like I’m going to be anti-public on this issue, but I think this pledge itself is something that has allowed me to be a broker of discussions now in the city of Dallas. There’s some silver lining in this cloud.”

MEETING WITH LGBT LEADERS | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings greets gay couple Jack Evans, left, and George Harris, who've been together more than 50 years, before Saturday's meeting at Resource Center Dallas. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

Rawlings said he’s spoken to as many people who support his position as oppose it. But he acknowledged that when it comes to emails and messages on Facebook and Twitter, the vast majority have been in support of signing the pledge. Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, said his office has received thousands of emails in the last two weeks.

“The other night [someone] said, ‘Thank you for not getting caught up in the hype of this thing, but I see you support marriage equality,’” Rawlings said. “And I said, ‘Yes, tell me about your position.’ And I realize there are so many people out there who really support what the LGBT community is trying to accomplish, but they are not interested in getting caught up into a polarizing movement.

“I’m very excited about the ability now to have this conversation,” he added. “I’m tired of talking about the pledge, but I think we’re just at the front end of having a conversation about LGBT civil rights.”

Rawlings has also said he wants to focus on substantive things he can accomplish as mayor to support LGBT civil rights.

But as of Tuesday, he said he hadn’t identified what those things will be. He said he plans to set up another meeting with Cece Cox, executive director and CEO of Resource Center Dallas, and others LGBT leaders to discuss specifics.

“There’s no question I’m a little ambivalent about my role now with the LGBT community, because I think that many people feel that I have sold them down the river, and I don’t want for political purposes to act like, ‘Oh, but I love you,’” Rawlings said. “I don’t want it to be disingenuous. I want to earn my respect in that community by putting my actions where my speech is on this.”

Rawlings said he thinks that for religious conservatives, civil marriage is secondary to the sacrament of religious marriage.

He said as mayor he wants to focus on “starting to de-mystify this for the faith-based community, and making sure we separate sacraments from civil rights.”

“If we ever are going to get to a better place, we’ve got to have room for people’s civil rights and personal religious beliefs in the same city,” he said.

“I’m a believer. I understand that tradition. I understand why that’s important. Some great conversations are starting to take place that I didn’t think I could ever have.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Same-sex marriage returns to political spotlight

Issue could appear on ballot in as many as 6 states this year

NEW YORK — Same-sex marriage is back in the political spotlight and likely to remain there through Election Day in November as a half-dozen states face potentially wrenching votes on the issue.

In New Hampshire, Republicans who now control the legislature are mulling whether to repeal the 2009 law legalizing same-sex marriage. Their state is one of six with such laws, along with Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, as well as the capital district of Washington.

In Maryland, New Jersey and Washington state, bills to legalize same-sex marriage have high-powered support and good chances of passage in the legislature. Gay-marriage opponents in Maryland and Washington would likely react by seeking referendums in November to overturn those laws, while New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, says he’ll veto the bill if it reaches him and prefers that lawmakers OK a referendum so voters can decide.

In all three states, polls suggest voters are closely divided on whether gays should have the right to marry, so there’s a chance one could emerge as the first state to support same-sex marriage in a statewide vote.

Three of the remaining Republican presidential contenders, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, have signed a National Organization for Marriage pledge opposing same-sex marriage and endorsing a federal constitutional amendment to ban it. But it’s not among the topics prominent in the stump speeches of Romney or Newt Gingrich, the two front-runners.

On the Democratic side, President Barack Obama has taken several steps during his first term that have pleased gay-rights advocates, but says he is still “evolving” in regard to same-sex marriage and isn’t ready to endorse it. Some activists hope he will do so before the election, though there’s been no strong hint of that from the White House.

“Obama will get asked about it, and you can’t straddle both sides of this forever,” said Richard Socarides, a former Clinton White House adviser on gay rights. “Clearly he’s not going to retreat, so he only has one place to go, and I think he will do it before the election.”

Maine voters also may have an opportunity to vote for same-sex marriage in November; gay-rights activists announced Thursday they are moving forward with a ballot-measure campaign, submitting more than 105,000 signatures to the Secretary of State. Proposed amendments for constitutional bans on gay marriage will be on the ballots in North Carolina on May 8 and in Minnesota on Nov. 6.

Added together, the state-level showdowns will likely raise the prominence of the marriage issue in the presidential campaign, even though it’s not a topic that the leading candidates tend to broach proactively.

Another potential factor: Judgments could be issued during the campaign in one or more of several pending federal court cases about same-sex marriage. Appeals could result in the issue heading toward the Supreme Court, and the presidential candidates would be expected to comment on any major development.

In all the showdown states, national advocacy groups are expected to be active on both sides. The Human Rights Campaign, for example, has promised to provide funding, strategic advice and field staff for the various campaigns supporting same-sex marriage.

On the other side, the National Organization for Marriage is vowing a multistate effort, including promises of financial support in the primaries to defeat any Republican lawmakers who support gay marriage in Washington.

Though several major national polls now show that a slight majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, National Organization for Marriage president Brian Brown predicts his side will continue its winning streak and prevail in any state referendums that are held this November.

“There’s a myth that history is on a trajectory moving toward same-sex marriage,” Brown said. “There is no such momentum.”

—  John Wright

N.Y. Republican on gay marriage: ‘F**k it. I’m trying to do the right thing’

As we reported here on Instant Tea, the New York Senate appears to be just one vote shy of the majority needed to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state. And one reason marriage supporters are so close to the magic number of 32 is because one Republican, Sen. Roy McDonald, decided it was time to throw partisanship out the window and “do the right thing.”

New York Sen.Roy McDonald

According to this post on TMZ.com, in announcing his decision earlier this week to vote for marriage equality, McDonald declared:

“You get to the point where you evolve in your life where everything isn’t black and white, good and bad, and you try to do the right thing. You might not like that. You might be very cynical about that. Well, fuck it. I don’t care what you think. I’m trying to do the right thing. I’m tired of Republican-Democrat politics. They can take the job and shove it. I come from a blue-collar background. I’m trying to do the right thing, and that’s where I’m going with this.”

Well, I say, you go, Sen. McDonald. It’s about time somebody actually pointed out that this is an issue of fairness and equality; partisan politics shouldn’t matter, and neither should some individuals’ personal religious beliefs. What matters is doing the right thing.

Marriage equality supporters — and I am one — appreciate all the New York senators who are backing the marriage bill there. But when someone is willing to step out and state their support in such unequivocal terms and to stress that they support marriage equality because it is the right thing to do as McDonald did, then they deserve some special thanks.

—  admin

UPDATE: New York Assembly passes gay marriage bill — again

As David Taffet noted here earlier today, New York’s Senate appears to be one vote shy of the number needed to pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. But the New York Daily News is reporting that the state’s Assembly has voted again to approve the legislation.

The Assembly has voted three times before to legalize gay marriage. In today’s vote, the measure passed 80-63, the lowest margin by which it has passed since it was first approved in 2007.

 

—  admin

New York recognizes same-sex conjugal visits

This comes under the category of one of those rights you probably didn’t know you didn’t have: New York has changed regulations to allow same-sex conjugal visits.

The article caught my eye because of a picture of the historical marker at Sing Sing, the prison where my father used to work. Yes, I said work there — as a teacher — not live there as a prisoner.

Although New York has not yet passed same-sex marriage, by executive order the state recognizes marriages performed in other states. Recent polls show that 56 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing same-sex marriage.

New York allows conjugal visits for its prisoners. Now they have extended those rights for same-sex civil union or married partners.

Furloughs for prisoners to care for a terminally ill partner may now also be granted to those in a civil union or same-sex marriage, a right opposite-sex partners have had.

The historical marker reminded me of a New York phrase I haven’t used since moving to Dallas.

In Texas we say someone is going to prison. In the Bronx, they someone is going “up the river.” That’s because Sing Sing is up the Hudson River from New York City. In Albany, which is further up the river and has its own colloquialisms, they say someone is going down the river.

But whichever way you’re going on the river, if you’re in a civil union or marriage that is recognized by New York, you can now have conjugal visits.

—  David Taffet

10 countries now allow same-sex marriage

Associated Press

NEW YORK — A leading rights group says 10 countries have legalized same-sex marriage in the past decade.

But Human Rights Watch said in a survey released Monday that bias continues against people who want to marry people of the same gender in those 10 countries and many others.

Boris O. Dittrich of the group’s gay rights program says that the growing number of countries legalizing same-sex marriage demonstrates progress in sexual equality around the world.

The first same-sex marriages took place in the Netherlands on April 1, 2001. The countries that followed were Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland and Argentina.

—  John Wright

No marriage vote in Maryland House today; Maryland delegate comes out as gay

Although some had expected the Maryland House of Delegates to vote today on a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in that state, The Washington Blade is reporting that the vote won’t be happening today. However, a committee hearing on a measure to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing based on gender identity is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. today.

According to the Blade, the House has adjourned for the day, but not before supporters of the measure were able to kill four hostile amendments that would have weakened the bill or killed it outright.

One of the amendments would have allowed religious institutions to refuse to allow same-sex parents to adopt (defeated by those who pointed out it had nothing to do with marriage), while a second would have renamed the bill the Same-Sex Marriage Act.

A third amendment would have changed the measure into a constitutional amendment, thus forcing it back into committee where it would have died; and the fourth amendment would have allowed parents to take their children out of public school health classes including information on same-sex marriage and would have allowed teachers in public schools to refuse to include such information in their classroom curricula.

The House is set to reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday morning.

Del. Peter Murphy of Maryland, left, and former Texas state Rep. Glen Maxey

In other news out of the Maryland House, also from the Blade, Democratic Delegate Peter Murphy on Tuesday night publicly acknowledged that he is gay. Murphy, a divorced father of two with grandchildren, said that his family and colleagues have known he is gay for years, and that he has never denied his sexuality orientation. “I just presumed people knew,” he told the Washington LGBT paper.

Murphy’s announcement brings the total of openly LGBT Maryland delegates to seven. The state also has one openly gay senator.

Texas, by the way, has had only one openly LGBT state lawmaker, and that was Glen Maxey who has been out of office since 2003. Maxey was first elected in 1991 to represent the Austin-area district that had previously been represented by Lena Guerrero. Before running for the House, Maxey was the first executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas (now known as Equality Texas), and since leaving public office, he has worked as a lobbyist and campaign consultant. He ran for Travis County tax assessor-collector in 2007, but lost the Democratic Primary to incumbent Nelda Wells Spears.

—  admin

More bad news from Election Night: 3 Iowa judges who backed marriage equality are defeated

Tena Callahan

Among the Democrats in Dallas County who hung on to their seats on Tuesday was State District Family Court Judge Tena Callahan, who in 2009 boldly declared Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Callahan defeated Republican opponent Julie Reedy by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent, and her landmark decision didn’t appear to have hurt her at all at the polls.

However, the news was not so good for three Supreme Court judges in Iowa who ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2009. The three were all defeated in retention elections on Tuesday, after being targeted by the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage.

NOM spent $600,000 on TV ads and a 45-county bus tour targeting the Iowa justices. Despite their defeat, though, LGBT groups noted that same-sex marriage remains legal in Iowa.

“By their own admission, NOM’s Iowa strategy was about sending a warning shot to judges nationwide,” Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese said in a statement. “NOM and its secret donors will continue to target judges around the country if they rule in favor of marriage equality and will foster an anti-gay, hostile environment in the process.”

Lambda Legal, which brought the lawsuit that resulted in the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, had this to say about the result:

“Let’s be clear about what happened in Iowa and what didn’t happen: Three skilled jurists lost their jobs, but the Court’s ruling in the case allowing same-sex couples to marry is still the law of the land, enshrined in the Iowa Constitution. Same-sex couples continue to marry in Iowa. Antigay groups have lost on the big issue — equality — and they are attacking our courts for protecting it.

“This spiteful campaign is a wake-up call to future voters who must resist attempts to politicize the courts. It is the responsibility of us all to protect the system of checks and balances that defines our democracy, and it continues to be our responsibility at Lambda Legal to make our case for equality, not just before judges, but in the court of public opinion.

“We are angry, but we also take the long view: The Iowa Supreme Court delivered justice that will outlast this political fight by upholding the Iowa Constitution’s guarantee of equality for all Iowans. Seven jurists were posed a question by people who had been denied basic fairness guaranteed by the state constitution. The judges did their jobs with integrity – as they must.

“But the result in Iowa shines a light on a dangerous agenda to undermine the democratic system of checks and balances that has served us well for over 200 years. If an embattled judiciary were to lose its ability to protect our laws and constitution with impartiality, that would be a tragic loss for our country. We can’t let that happen.”

—  John Wright

Sen. Cornyn admits to using gay GOP group for votes, in letter to Family Research Council

Tony Perkins, president of the anti-gay Family Research Council, sent Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a letter earlier this week requesting that Cornyn skip an upcoming fundraiser for Log Cabin Republicans he’s scheduled to attend, according to CNN.

“Your work in the U.S. Senate on issues important to the family is well known, as is your close association with Family Research Council and the work we do, which makes the association [with Log Cabin] all the more distressing,” Perkins wrote to Cornyn on Monday. “In deference to the work you have done against the debasement of our culture, I would ask respectfully that you withdraw from attending the event.”

Cornyn responded to Perkins on Wednesday by touting his anti-gay credentials. Cornyn tells Perkins he supports the Defense of Marriage Act and favors a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Cornyn says he supports a referendum that would allow Washington, D.C., residents to vote to overturn the City Council’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage. And he says he opposes the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell.”

“All these positions were well known to the Log Cabin Republicans when they invited me, in my capacity as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, to attend their event later this month, and I accepted for two reasons. First, part of my job is to reach out to those committed to defeat Senate Democrats this November. The Log Cabin Republicans are doing just that, as they stand for fiscal discipline, limited government, and a strong national defense. We may not agree on several key issues, but we do agree that every committee in the United State Senate should be chaired by a Republican.  …”

Instant Tea has been harping on this issue for weeks, saying Cornyn is blatantly pandering by attending the Log Cabin dinner. His letter to Perkins confirms that Cornyn has no intentions of supporting gay rights anytime soon, and that he’s only attending the dinner to try to drum up votes in November so that Republicans can take over Congress, which would allow them to further FRC’s cause by preserving discriminatory laws while passing additional anti-gay federal legislation.

Here’s an idea: Maybe Log Cabin should take some of the money Cornyn helps the group raise and donate it to the Trevor Project to help prevent LGBT youth from committing suicide because they’re taught to hate themselves for being gay in a society controlled by people like Cornyn.

READ PERKINS’ LETTER TO CORNYN

READ CORNYN’S RESPONSE TO PERKINS

—  John Wright

Castro sorry for persecution of gays in Cuba

Fidel Castro

The latest country to talk about legalizing same-sex marriage will not become the new gay and lesbian travel destination anytime soon.

What is the latest country to talk about legalizing same-sex unions? That bastion of civil rights — Cuba.

Fidel Castro has been out of the spotlight for several years but recently made some public appearances. Asked about gays and lesbians, he apologized for past mistreatment.

In an interview on Radio Cadena Agramonte, Castro took responsibility for persecution of gays and lesbians after the 1959 revolution.

“Five decades ago, because of homophobia, homosexuals were marginalized in Cuba and many were sent to agricultural or military labor camps, accused of being “counterrevolutionaries,” he said. “We had so many terrible problems, problems of life or death, you know, you do not pay enough attention.”

He said personally he had no prejudice and that many of his oldest friends were gay and lesbian.

But he said, “No, if someone is responsible (for the discrimination) it is me.”

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Cuba in the 1990s, and sex-reassignment surgery for transgenders began being performed free in 2008.

The slogan for the last World Day Against Homophobia in Cuba was “La homosexualidad no es un peligro, la homofobia sí” or “Homosexuality is not a threat, homophobia is.”

—  David Taffet