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