LGBT candidates, allies win big in Texas primary

Texasprimary

Out JP candidate Sara Martinez and former City Councilwoman Pauline Medrano, surrounded by supporters, both made it into runoffs in Dallas County. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Openly LGBT candidates and the community’s allies swept the Texas Democratic primary Tuesday, winning the party’s nomination while others made it into runoffs.

In Dallas County, out justice of the peace precinct 5, place 1 candidate Sara Martinez led in the crowded race after early voting. She secured a place in the runoff alongside Melissa Bellan. Other out candidate John McCall came in fourth in the race.

Out candidate Susan Lopez-Craig came in third in the precinct 5 constable’s race. Incumbent Beth Villarreal and Michael Orozco will face off in a runoff.

In the race for county treasurer, former Dallas Councilwoman and LGBT ally Pauline Medrano and Bennie Elnora Brown came out on top to make it into the runoff.

Queer state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, easily won re-election, defeating her only Democratic challenger, Rey Sepulveda. Gonzalez previously told Dallas Voice she expected a challenger based on her outspokenness on women’s and LGBT rights. She’s one of five openly gay state House candidates, but the only one with a contested primary. With no Republican challenger in November, she’ll serve another term.

—  Anna Waugh

Perry, Dewhurst, Abbott mum on Supreme Court marriage rulings

Perry.Rick_

Perhaps it’s because they were too distracted by the fallout over state Sen. Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster.

Or perhaps they realize LGBT issues are losing their effectiveness as a political wedge, even in solidly red states like Texas. (Note this Associated Press story from yesterday.)

Or perhaps it’s a little of both.

But whatever the reason, statewide GOP leaders in Texas have been surprisingly mum about the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision this week striking down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Attorney General Greg Abbott are all Republicans and strong supporters of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which also prohibits civil unions, domestic partnerships and anything “identical or similar to marriage.” But none of the three has issued any kind of official statement responding to the high court’s decisions, which will inevitably pave the way for Texas’ marriage ban to be struck down.

In fact, Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who’s running for lieutenant governor in 2014, is the only statewide official who’s issued a statement. Staples also happens to have co-authored Texas’ marriage amendment when he was a state senator in 2005.

“I’m very disturbed by today’s SCOTUS rulings on marriage,” Staples wrote on Twitter. “But I remain even more committed to fighting for our conservative values.”

—  John Wright

Anti-gay TX officials mum on SCOTUS’ decision to take up marriage cases

Perry.Rick

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who championed Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, doesn’t seem overly concerned about the Supreme Court’s decision to take a case that has the potential to strike down the amendment.

Elected officials in Texas have been silent thus far about the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement today that it will take up two same-sex marriage cases — one challenging California’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and the other challenging the Defense of Marriage Act’s prohibition on federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

If the high court were to issue a broad ruling declaring California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional, it could have implications for Texas’ amendment banning same-sex marriage. But strangely, as far as we can tell, the biggest supporters of the amendment — who include Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and Attorney General Greg Abbott — haven’t said a word about today’s announcement, not even on Twitter.

—  John Wright

Liberty Institute, on behalf of Chisum and Staples, asks Texas’ high court to take gay divorce cases

Kelly Shackelford

The right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute has filed briefs asking the Texas Supreme Court to hear two same-sex divorce cases so justices can resolve allegedly conflicting opinions from state appellate courts in Austin and Dallas.

The Liberty Institute announced today that it filed the briefs on behalf of State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a former state senator from Palestine.

In both cases, district judges ruled to allow same-sex divorces, prompting Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott to intervene. In the Dallas case, the 5th court of appeals overturned Democratic Judge Tena Callahan’s ruling. J.B., the gay Dallas resident who’s seeking a divorce from his Massachusetts marriage to H.B., appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court in March.

In the Austin case, State of Texas v. Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, the 3rd court of appeals upheld the district judge’s decision, saying Abbott’s attempt to intervene was too late.

“The district judges’ rulings granting same-sex divorces illegitimately overturned the will of more than two million Texans and their elected officials,” Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said in a press release. “The debate over same-sex marriage and divorce should play out in our democratic institutions and should not be short-circuited by activist judges.”

The Liberty Institute previously filed a brief on behalf of Chisum and Staples in the Dallas case when it was before the appeals court.

Read a copy of the Liberty Institute’s brief in the Dallas case here, and the Austin case here.

Austin-based attorney Jody Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is representing both J.B. and Naylor/Daly, declined to comment on the briefs.

—  John Wright

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Why haven’t these anti-gay Texas leaders said anything about Wednesday’s Prop 8 ruling?

Wednesday’s ruling in the Prop 8 case represents a potential threat to Gov. Rick Perry’s baby, 2005′s Prop 2. So why hasn’t he said anything to defend it?

Perry v. Schwarzenegger could eventually result in Texas’ same-sex marriage bans being struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. So you’d expect politicians here to be lining up to sound off about Wednesday’s watershed ruling from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker that declared California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional. Or not.

So far, we’ve seen only two statements from Texas politicians — both in support of the ruling. Linda Chavez-Thompson, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, posted a message on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

“So glad to hear Prop 8 was overturned today,” Chavez-Thompson wrote. “It was discrimination at its worst. I will keep fighting for equality for all Texans.”

And Democratic State Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston said this via-email:

“I’ve always supported marriage equality for all Americans and believe that the U.S. Constitution supports it as well. When Texas passed its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions in 2005, I filed a constitutional amendment to let voters repeal the discriminatory amendment. I’m glad to see that our country continues to move forward. Every year, the public’s opinion on marriage equality is more supportive. The law should prohibit discrimination, not sanction it.”

Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who championed Texas’ marriage amendment, hasn’t said a word about the Prop 8 ruling other than perhaps to his wife, though he did post a statement on his website Thursday ranting about a spending bill in Congress (since when did Washington become more of a threat than the homosexuals?).

Likewise, we haven’t heard anything from Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who’s fighting to protect Texas from gay divorce; or Republican Ag Commish Todd Staples, who co-authored Texas’ marriage amendment and filed a brief opposing gay divorce; or Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who’s apparently more concerned about drama classes at Tarleton State University.

In fairness, we also haven’t seen statements from the likes of openly gay Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White or any of the other statewide challengers.

In the end, it appears that with a key election a few months away, most would rather simply avoid this issue altogether, which is rather telling if you ask us.

Anyhow, now that we’ve had a chance to sift through our Inboxes, we’ve posted some of the other local reactions we’ve received below.

Cece Cox, executive director, Resource Center Dallas:

“Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in the Perry vs. Schwarzenegger case — striking down California’s Proposition 8 as a violation of both the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment — will be remembered for its pivotal role in our march towards equality.

“In plain and direct language, Judge Walker said that “plaintiffs do not seek recognition of a new right…many of the purported interests identified by proponents [of Proposition 8] are nothing more than a fear or unarticulated dislike of same-sex couples…moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians.

“But, it’s important to remember that Judge Walker’s ruling is not the last word in this fight. Forty-five states, including Texas, deny marriage to our community. The case now likely moves to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and may end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Much work needs to be done. Until our relationships and families are legally recognized in all states, we are second-class citizens. Continue to have conversations with your families, friends, and co-workers about why marriage equality is important. The tide of public opinion is gradually changing in our favor, and what seemed a dream a generation ago is one major step closer to fruition.”

The Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor, Cathedral of Hope:

“Today [Wednesday], Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker declared the California state law that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman unconstitutional. I applaud this ruling and believe that Judge Walker has issued a just and fair ruling that pleases God. The journey to full marriage equality for all Americans is still before us. But I have faith that the God who created each of us and called it good is with us in this journey and will see it through. As the world’s largest predominantly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender congregation, we stand with the 18,000 same-sex couples who have already been married in California and with the hundreds that have been married here at the Cathedral of Hope in our 40 years of ministry. We also stand with every gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender person who has courageously made covenant with someone they love despite the laws in our nation. This is a day of celebration and joy and we have seen the realm of God come closer to the earth and for that I give God thanks.”

Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman:

“As we stand in solidarity with Californians, we must remember that our work is far from over. The laws in Texas are not similar to California. Existing law here allows for systematic discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans every single day. There is much work to be done legislatively to change the laws in Texas. And in order to change the laws, we must elect public officials who will support equal treatment under the law for every Texan.”

—  John Wright

While Todd Staples worries about gay divorce, cotton, hay, sweet potatoes, peanuts decline

Todd Staples
Todd Staples

Hank Gilbert, the Democrat who’s challenging Republican incumbent Todd Staples in the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, is publicly questioning Staples’ involvement in a same-sex divorce case in Dallas. In a statement posted on his campaign Web site yesterday, Gilbert said:

“I can’t for the life of me figure out what this has to do with agriculture. The last time I checked, marriage and divorce played absolutely no role whatsoever in the price of cotton, sorghum, or corn. One would think Todd Staples would focus his energies on actually improving agriculture in Texas, but instead, he’s focused on yet again bashing the LGBT community and their families in an effort to shore up his erosion in his right wing base. I’m sick and tired of politicians masking their terrible job performance by using our citizens as a punching bag.”

Gilbert, who’s from Whitehouse, issued a comprehensive policy statement on LGBT issues, called “Equality for All,” when he planned to run for governor. He switched to the agriculture commissioner race after Bill White declared for governor. Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman in the primary. While “Equality for All” stops short of explicitly endorsing same-sex marriage, it comes pretty darn close. It proposes repealing Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and allowing civil unions that give gay and lesbian couples the same privileges and protections as heterosexual couples. Gilbert’s policy statement, which was later adopted by gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami, also proposed legislation banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, insurance and public education.

Staples’ office hasn’t returned phone calls seeking comment about his involvement in the same-sex divorce case. Staples, from Palestine, and State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, filed a brief opposing the divorce with the help of the right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute. Staples’ involvement in the case presumably stems from the fact that he co-sponsored Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage when he served as a state senator.

Yesterday I suggested that right-wing politicians in Texas are showing signs of backing away from gay-bashing, because they’re afraid it may come back to haunt them. I also called for pro-LGBT politicians to go on the offensive. Perhaps Gilbert was listening:

“I’m not sure what benefit Todd Staples will get aligning himself with a right-wing think tank that sued the state of Alaska to stop an investigation into former Governor Sarah Palin’s abuse of power, but one thing is clear: Texas agriculture doesn’t benefit from this at all. While Todd Staples worries about gay marriage, Texas food security is at stake. When Texas produces less crops, that means we have to import them from other states or even other countries. Staples needs to be doing something about shrinking agricultural production and what that means for food safety, not filing briefs in a bunch of lawsuits that don’t involve him or his department. Finally, there’s the basic issue of human decency. It’s time Todd Staples stop bashing LGBT Texans. Todd’s already been a critical player in denying equality to LGBT Texans, why continue to demonize them?”

—  John Wright

Are right-wing politicians in Texas starting to realize that gay-baiting no longer works?

Attorney General Greg Abbott appears to be letting the Liberty Institute's Hiram "Sassy" Sasser, shown during yesterday's press conference, do the AG's dirty work for him.
Attorney General Greg Abbott seems to be letting people like the Liberty Institute’s Hiram “Sassy” Sasser, shown during yesterday’s press conference, do his dirty work for him. (DAVID TAFFET)

During this year’s big national gathering of conservative political activists, called CPAC, a poll found that virtually none considered “stopping gay marriage” to be one of their top priorities.

Meanwhile, three consecutive polls of likely Texas voters have found that a healthy majority — about 60 percent — support some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, such as civil unions.

Also recently, lesbian Annise Parker overcame appeared to benefit from vicious anti-gay attacks on her way to becoming mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city — which happens to be in Texas.

All this seems to raise the question of whether gay-baiting or gay-bashing or whatever you want to call it is still an effective political strategy, even in the reddest of big states. Indeed, there are signs that even politicians who’ve traditionally been virulently anti-gay are calling off the dogs. Take Gov. Rick Perry, for example.

When a Tarleton State University student wanted to stage a gay-themed play for his class project last month, it was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst — and not Perry — who issued hateful statements slamming the production. While both Perry and Dewhurst are up for re-election this year, most believe the governor’s race is the only statewide contest that a Democrat has a reasonable chance of winning.

Which also helps explain why Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples doesn’t have any qualms about being an outspoken opponent of gay divorce, even as Perry has remained completely silent about the issue — at least since issuing a statement when the Dallas case was first filed in January 2009.

Where’s Rick? As far as I can tell, he hasn’t said a word about the gays in months. His opponent, Democrat Bill White, was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay-rights group, in early March, but I haven’t heard a peep out of Perry about it. Former Eagle Forum President Cathie Adams, who’s now chairwoman of the State Republican Party, has also been strangely silent.

And even Attorney General Greg Abbott, who initiated the challenges to gay divorce, may now be backing away from the issue just a little bit.

Indeed, Abbott appears to be letting the Liberty Institute, which should be called the Oppression Institute, do his dirty work for him. When politicians can gay-bait through a third party, they still get a boost from homophobic voters, but without the backlash from fair-minded people.

Yesterday, not only was Abbott not present, but the attorney arguing the case for his office didn’t even show up for a press conference after the gay divorce hearing. Instead, it was Hiram “Sassy” Sasser from the Liberty Institute at the microphone. Surprisingly, none of the reporters on hand questioned why in the hell the AG’s office wasn’t speaking for itself.

Of course, the canned answer would have been that the AG’s office doesn’t comment on cases that are still pending. But I’ll tell you the real reason: People like Perry and Abbott are starting to worry that gay-baiting will backfire. Four years ago, both Perry and Abbott probably would have been at the press conference themselves. But not anymore, and that’s a good sign. Now we just need some pro-LGBT politicians with enough guts to go on the offensive.

—  John Wright

Gay divorce update: Arguments Wednesday in Dallas case; AG's office to appeal Austin ruling

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Oral arguments are set for Wednesday afternoon in the Texas attorney general’s appeal of a gay divorce in Dallas, and attorney Pete Schulte said he’s expecting a media circus at the George Allen Courts Building. Schulte has stopped short of calling for an LGBT rally outside, but he does say he thinks the community should be prepared to respond in the event of anti-gay protesters. Also, TV cameras won’t be allowed inside the courtroom, so they’ll need something to film (hint, hint). The courthouse is at 600 Commerce St. in Dallas, and the oral arguments begin at 2 p.m. The courtroom is open to the public, but space is limited, so if you want to attend the actual proceedings you may want to arrive early. As if this case wasn’t already politically charged enough, Schulte reports that the 5th District Court of Appeals has granted 5 minutes during oral arguments to one of the two anti-gay state officials who recently filed a brief opposing the divorce, State Rep. Warren Chisum or Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. It’s unclear whether it will be Chisum or Staples making the arguments.

In other same-sex divorce news, Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office has also decided to appeal a Travis County judge’s decision last month to grant a divorce to a lesbian couple. The district judge who granted the divorce had asked the AG’s office not to appeal the decision. The judge told the AG’s office that the Dallas case will decide the matter anyway and that continuing to fight the Austin case could have an adverse impact on a 4-year-old boy who was adopted by the couple. But apparently Abbott is less concerned about the welfare of the child than drumming up right-wing votes in November elections.

On Saturday in Austin, I got a chance to meet Angelique Naylor, one of the women who was granted the divorce in Travis County. Naylor, who participated in a panel during Equality Texas’ State of the State Policy Conference, told me that while the divorce case began as a way to legally end the couple’s relationship, it’s evolved into something more.

“Now I’m fired up and I want to do the right thing and make a stand,” Naylor said.

Naylor’s attorney, Jennifer Cochran, also participated in the panel on Saturday.

“He doesn’t like gay people for some reason,” Cochran said of Abbott.

—  John Wright