Mayor’s misstep on marriage pledge shows how far we’ve come

Laura Miller, who became LGBT icon, opposed gay unions during 1st campaign 10 years ago

David-Webb

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

The signing of a pledge in support of same-sex marriage by some 80 mayors attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ recent meeting in Washington, D.C, represents a powerful, almost astounding stride in the LGBT community’s march to equality.

Only one big-city mayor created a controversy by refusing to sign the pledge, and that unfortunately was Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who probably regrets the decision now.

His decision not to sign the pledge — even though he later claimed he personally supports marriage equality — set off a bone-jolting controversy in Dallas as LGBT activists reacted to the news.

Rawlings cancelled a planned appearance at a neighborhood meeting because of activists’ plans to demonstrate against him, and all of the city’s newspapers and television stations began covering the story. The Dallas Morning News, which is infamous for its conservative takes on many progressive measures, praised Rawlings for resisting pressure to sign the pledge.

As a result of Rawlings thwarting activists’ plans to confront him at the neighborhood meeting, GetEQUAL scheduled a “Sign the Pledge” rally at City Hall.

There was a time when LGBT activists would have given the mayor a pass on the marriage equality issue, but that has long since passed. In declining to sign the pledge, Rawlings used the excuse that he was practicing a policy of avoiding social issues unrelated to city government.

That excuse had previously worked for former Dallas Mayor Laura Miller when she chose not to address the issue of marriage equality. At the same time, she managed to achieve something close to sainthood in the eyes of Dallas’ LGBT community because of her support of a nondiscrimination ordinance addressing sexual orientation and gender identity passed in 2002.

When Miller first campaigned for mayor she and all of her opponents declared in a candidate’s forum that they opposed same-sex marriage, but they all declared support for the nondiscrimination ordinance. That apparently was enough at the time to gain the trust and support of LGBT activists, especially after it was learned she had a gay uncle and a lesbian stepsister she loved and supported.

Miller, who served as mayor from 2002 to 2007, later gave more support to the LGBT community’s pursuit of marriage equality by speaking out against Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage that voters approved in 2005. She also began supporting marriage equality during her speeches at Dallas’ glittering Black Tie Dinner.

Today, Miller says that she “supports gay marriage 100 percent,” and she adds that “it will be legal nationwide sooner than later. Young people today don’t give it a second thought and support it fully.”

As the mother of two daughters and one son, Miller knows her stuff. She declined to comment on Rawlings’ decision not to sign the pledge, but it’s a pretty good bet that if Miller were in his shoes today she would have signed that pledge — policy or no policy.

Rawlings made a terrible error in judgment when he refused to sign the pledge along with the mayors of other big cities such as New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Boston, San Diego, Portland, Denver and the list goes on and on. What’s worse, Texas mayors from Austin, Houston and San Antonio signed the pledge.

If Rawlings had simply signed the pledge, it likely would have been reported by the Dallas media, there would have been a few stones thrown at him by conservative conscientious objectors and then it would have been forgotten. But now, it will continue to rage as a full-scale controversy for an undetermined amount of time.

At this point it seems like the best course of action for Rawlings to take would be to just sign the pledge, seeing as how he is already on record as supporting marriage equality. That action might stir up resentment among conservative constituents, but at least it would put Rawlings on the winning side of the debate.

The fact of the matter is that marriage equality will indeed one day be the law of the land, no matter how much that irks those who would prevent it if they could.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@hotmail.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Annise Parker now co-chair of “Mayors for the Freedom to Marry,” Austin’s Leffingwell joins

Lee Leffingwell

Austin's Mayor Lee Leffingwell

Houstini reported yesterday that Houston’s Mayor Annise Parker was scheduled to appear at the “Mayors for the Freedom to Marry” press conference in Washington D.C., and that she was the only Texas mayor to participate. This morning we found out that Parker, along with New York’s Michael Bloomberg and L.A.’s Antonio Villaraigosa, is serving as co-chair for the effort. Additionally Austin’s Mayor Lee Leffingwell has joined the effort.

So that makes 2 of Texas’ 1,215 mayors with the bravery to stand up for what’s right, leaving the citizens of 1,213 citizens with the task of persuading their mayors. In Dallas Daniel Cates of GetEqual has started an online petition encouraging Mayor Mike Rawlings to sign on which currently has 216 signatories. The Dallas Voice reports that Rawlings claims to personally support marriage equality, despite his unwillingness to join “Mayors for the Freedom to Marry:”

“This one obviously was very difficult for me, because I personally believe in the rights of the gay community to marry,” Rawlings said Thursday… “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.”

Rawlings’ chief of staff, Paula Blackmon, told the Voice “the mayor does not plan to publicly support any social issues but would rather focus on the policy issues that impact Dallas,” adding “we have not signed onto other similar requests.”

—  admin

Here’s the pledge in support of same-sex marriage that Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings refuses to sign

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is among the co-chairs of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry.

Jackie Yodashkin at Freedom to Marry sends along word that the group has now posted a list of 74 of the mayors who’ve signed its pledge in support of same-sex marriage, as well as the text of the pledge itself.

As many of us are painfully aware by now, the list doesn’t include Dallas’ Mike Rawlings, who says he “personally” supports same-sex marriage but doesn’t sign things related to social issues that don’t directly impact city affairs. Read our latest story here. (It’s worth noting that since we broke this story Wednesday, it’s been picked up by both the Dallas Morning News, which ran it on the front page of the Metro section today, and the Dallas Observer.)

Rawlings.Mike

Mike Rawlings

Rawlings has also posted a statement on his Facebook page further explaining his position: “Upon taking office, I made a conscious decision to focus on issues that create a healthy, viable city and not on those that are partisan and social in nature. I was asked to pledge my support to ‘Mayors for the Freedom to Marry’ in an effort to pressure state and federal entities to legalize marriage for same-sex couples. I decided not to sign onto that letter because that is inconsistent with my view of the duties of the office of the mayor. To be a world class city, we must be inclusive towards all citizens, including the LGBT community. Personally, I support the LGBT movement and its efforts for equal rights that they deserve.”

Judging by the 63 comments on Rawlings Facebook post, the LGBT community isn’t satisfied. As of this morning, 173 people had signed a Change.org petition calling for Rawlings to sign the pledge. There’s also a Facebook page where you can find contact information for the mayor’s office.

Yodashkin also said that Houston Mayor Annise Parker is now a co-chair of the campaign, called Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. And while Austin’s Lee Leffingwell hadn’t been added to the published list, Yodashkin told me Thursday that Leffingwell had signed the pledge. Yodashkin also mentioned that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will speak at a press conference at 9:45 Eastern time this morning to formally unveil the campaign. Is it possible that Rawlings will have a change of heart and show up, pen in hand? We’ll find out, but for now the full text of the pledge is below.

—  John Wright

Ed Oakley: ‘What is [Tom Leppert] smoking?’

Ed Oakley is shown alongside Tom Leppert during a runoff debate in 2007.

Turns out we aren’t the only ones concerned about the potential negative impact of Tom Leppert’s gay-loving past on his bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012. From a Dallas Morning News article Sunday about Leppert’s chances, which appeared under the headline, “Ex-Dallas mayor Tom Leppert faces tough odds in U.S. Senate run”:

There are photos of Leppert participating in Dallas parades celebrating gay pride, which could cause angst for conservative voters, as well. …

But Leppert says he’ll be able to convince voters that he has the tools.

“I’m a conservative Republican and I always have been,” he said. “What our issues have to be is building a tax base. What you’ve got to do is grow the economy. I want to make a difference on those national economic issues.”

Leppert said he’s guided by his faith on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. He’s a member of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. He’s against abortion and believes marriage is between a man and woman.

“On the fiscal issues, on the spending issues, you’re going to find me as conservative as anybody,” he said. “On the social issues, I view those as faith issues. I’m comfortable talking about them, but I don’t want to lose sight on what’s going to make a difference.”

Leppert, of course, never mentioned his anti-LGBT views while serving as mayor. In fact, when we asked Leppert about marriage equality in 2008, he told us he was undecided on the issue. But don’t feel bad, because the LGBT community isn’t the only thing Leppert was for before he was against it. In a separate article on Sunday, the Morning News reported that Leppert, who championed the Trinity River Project as mayor, is now suddenly opposed to funding the project with earmarks. The article quotes openly gay former City Councilman Ed Oakley, who was defeated by Leppert in the mayor’s race in 2007:

—  John Wright

Gay marriage repeal not on agenda in N.H.

Despite the e-mail we mentioned earlier from HRC, a proposed repeal of same-sex marriage is officially not on the agenda for Republican state lawmakers in New Hampshire, The Associated Press reports:

House Republican Leader D.J. Bettencourt confirmed to The Associated Press on Wednesday that jobs and the economy will be the top priorities on an agenda to be announced Thursday. Bettencourt says there’s widespread agreement that social issues will have to take a back seat.

It’s good to see that in at least one state — thus far anyway — Republicans who rode November’s tsunami appear to be living up to their commitment to focus on fiscal issues.

—  John Wright

Oklahoma lawmakers spar over how conservative to be

After sweeping into power in November’s election, state’s ultra-conservative Republicans take aim at moderate House leader

Sean Murphy  |  editor@dallasvoice.com

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Republicans in control of the Oklahoma House opened two days of meetings to set their 2011 agenda this week, their incoming leader was taking shots from the chamber’s ultra-conservative wing because he has put the state’s struggling economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues.

KrisSteele
Oklahoma State Rep. Kris Steele

Members of the House GOP meet Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6-7. in Bartlesville, and Kris Steele, who will be formally elected as House Speaker next month, believes the Legislature next year should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

More-conservative Republicans want legislators to tighten access to abortion, relax regulations on firearms and attempt to restrict immigration.

“There’s going to be some fireworks within the caucus,” said state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who acknowledged some of his GOP colleagues have privately questioned whether Steele is too liberal to lead the House.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

Steele, a soft-spoken minister from Shawnee, said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February.

This week’s meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by Oklahomans wanting action on social issues. But moderate House Republicans fear an inordinate amount of attention on social issues will create a House divided and divert attention from the budget and a struggling Oklahoma economy.

“I’m seeing people every day who are concerned because they don’t have a job or health insurance,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician in far northeast Oklahoma. “They could care less about right-to-carry [firearms]), abortion, gays. They’re worried about their health care and putting food on the table.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, agrees.

“I would ask my ultra-conservative friends — do they understand that we are in the bottom of median family income, that we lead the nation in incarceration of female prisoners, that some of our nonviolent, criminal statutes are some of the most oppressive in the nation?” he asked. “We have serious issues in the state that are challenging us, especially when the budget situation is as bleak as it’s been in the history of this state.”

For his part, Steele says he’s never wavered on his commitment to expanding gun rights, restricting abortion or targeting illegal immigration. He said he supports a measure to allow for open carrying of firearms that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed last year, and that he will not thwart legislative attempts to further restrict abortion or address illegal immigration.

“Just because I’d like to pursue initiatives to create a business-friendly environment in Oklahoma and give us the opportunity to foster job creation and job opportunities for Oklahomans does not mean I’m any less committed to my stance on pro-life issues or Second Amendment rights or states’ rights or any of those things,” Steele said. “I think we can take a balanced approach and pursue an agenda that ultimately accommodates both arenas.”

Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she agrees with Steele that the state’s budget and fostering a good business environment should be the top priority for lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol in February.

“We’ve got to focus on getting Oklahoma’s economy back on track, creating the very best business climate possible,” Fallin said. “We’ll certainly consider the other ideas that the Legislature has, and that’s not to take away from their ideas, but just says these are the important priorities I believe will get Oklahoma back on track.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Gov. Rick Perry links job creation, gay marriage

We’ve commented here repeatedly about how Texas Republicans — and most notably Gov. Rick Perry — have been largely avoiding LGBT issues so far this election cycle. But obviously Perry hasn’t completely forgotten about same-sex marriage, the issue he rode to re-election in 2006.

The Texas Tribune’s Ross Ramsey, who followed Perry during a day of campaigning last week, reports that the incumbent is still willing to gay-bait, only now he’s picking his spots — like barbecue restaurants in Temple. Or who knows, maybe Perry has just been saving it all for the stretch run.

In any case, Perry is also keeping his anti-gay rhetoric current, as he’s now linking same-sex marriage to job creation. We’ve bolded Perry’s quotation in this passage from the Tribune:

Social issues might be in the back seat, but they’re still in the car: “There is still a land of opportunity, friends — it’s called Texas,” Perry said. “We’re creating more jobs than any other state in the nation. … Would you rather live in a state like this, or in a state where a man can marry a man?”

So there you have it, folks. If you want to live in a state where a man can marry a man, you’ll have to sacrifice job creation. Never mind those studies showing the economic benefits of legalizing same-sex marriage. If you ask Perry, gays are probably to blame for the recession!

—  John Wright

Hutchison to vote against Kagan because she supported the gay ‘social agenda’ at Harvard

Ever since Kay Bailey Hutchison was whalloped in the Republican gubernatorial primary by Rick Perry, some have been holding out hope that our senior U.S. senator might get better on LGBT issues. After all, Hutchison may be eyeing retirement instead of re-election in 2012, so what does she have to lose politically? Given her moderate views on other social issues, such as abortion, some suspect Hutchison is personally more gay-friendly than her abysmal voting record indicates. She’s only voted against us consistently for the last 15 years, they say, because that’s the only way to get re-elected as a Republican in Texas.

Well, so much for that theory. Hutchison’s office never responded to our months-old inquiry about her position on the amendment that would repeal “don’t ask don’t tell,” but she’s been sending letters to gay constituents indicating she’ll oppose it. And now, she’s announced that she’ll vote against Elena Kagan’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. Why? Well, because Kagan supported the gays when she limited access to military recruiters at Harvard University based on her opposition to DADT. From Hutchison’s statement:

“Her decision on military recruiters while at Harvard gives evidence of her personal views instructing her professional decisions in order to promote a social agenda. I simply cannot reconcile Ms. Kagan’s sparse record and my concerns about whether she will be an impartial arbiter of the law and so I will oppose her appointment.”


—  John Wright