Rawlings ‘personally’ supports marriage

Dallas mayor won’t sign pledge but says gay couples should have the right to wed

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Mike Rawlings

JOHN WRIGHT  |  Senior Editor
wright@dallasvoice.com

Although he declined to sign a pledge in support of same-sex marriage this week, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings declared Thursday, Jan. 19 that he personally supports the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed.

Rawlings has elected not to join a group of more than 75 mayors from across the country who’ve signed a pledge circulated by the group Freedom to Marry in conjunction with the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting this week in Washington, D.C.

Under fire from the LGBT community for not signing the pledge, Rawlings explained that since becoming mayor last year, it has been his policy to avoid partisan political issues or social debates that don’t directly impact city government.

“This one obviously was very difficult for me, because I personally believe in the rights of the gay community to marry,” Rawlings said Thursday in an exclusive interview by phone from Washington, where he was still attending the conference. “I think this [same-sex marriage] is way overdue and we need to get on with it, but that’s my personal belief, and when I start to speak on behalf of the city of Dallas … I’ve got to be thoughtful about how I use that office and what I want to impact, and that’s why I decided to stay away from endorsing and signing letters like that.”

Daniel Cates, North Texas regional coordinator for the LGBT direct action group GetEQUAL, responded that if Rawlings really supports marriage equality, he should sign the pledge, which was set to be formally released at a press conference Friday morning, Jan. 20.

“I think he’s doing the same thing that a lot of politicians do, and that’s saying what he needs to say to get the LGBT vote,” Cates said.

After Dallas Voice reported on its website Wednesday night that Rawlings didn’t plan to sign the pledge, Cates launched a Facebook page and an online petition encouraging people to contact the mayor by phone, email and fax, and ask him to change his mind.

Cates said he may also organize a marriage demonstration outside City Hall in February — but was still hoping Rawlings would reverse course and sign the pledge on Friday.

“If he supports us, we need him to put his money where his mouth is,” Cates said. “Otherwise what he’s proving to me, personally, is that he supports us when it’s going to get him votes or money.”

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SIGN OF SUPPORT | Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings throws beads while riding on the city float in the 2011 gay Pride parade. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

During his campaign last year, Rawlings said during a candidate forum that he voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning both marriage and civil unions. But before Thursday, the closest Rawlings had come to publicly endorsing same-sex marriage was in an interview with Dallas Voice during his campaign, when he said he felt the issue was “irrelevant” and “we should get beyond it and let people do what they want to do.”

Paula Blackmon, Rawlings’ chief of staff, said Thursday afternoon that 50 to 60 people had contacted the mayor’s office about the marriage pledge, with the vast majority saying he should sign it.

“People are communicating with us,” said Blackmon, who compared the public response to outcry over the city’s handling of the Occupy Dallas protests.

Rawlings said in addition to the LGBT community, he was getting pushback from his son and daughter, who he said were raised to reflect his personal beliefs about marriage equality.

“I’m catching a lot of grief in my family right now, just so you know, so I respect how people are feeling about this issue, and I understand it,” he said.

Other mayors who’ve signed the pledge include Michael Bloomberg of New York, Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Annise Parker of Houston, Jerry Sanders of San Diego, Thomas Menino of Boston and Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles.

Jackie Yodashkin, a spokeswoman for Freedom to Marry, said the full list of mayors who’ve signed the pledge would be revealed during Friday’s press conference to kick off the campaign, called Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

However, Yodashkin told Dallas Voice that as of Thursday, Houston’s Parker and Austin’s Lee Leffingwell were the only ones from Texas who’d signed the pledge. About 20 mayors from Texas, including Fort Worth’s Betsy Price, pre-registered for the Winter Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, according to the website.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 20, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas