Former State Rep. Paul Sadler says his position on issue has evolved; winner of July 31 contest will face uphill battle against GOP nominee

Paul Sadler and Grady Yarbrough.

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer

Paul Sadler says his position on marriage equality evolved over many years as a result of people he knows, including friends, colleagues and clients — some who died from AIDS.

Sadler, who served as a state representative from 1991–2003, received 35 percent of the vote in the May 29 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. He’ll face Grady

Yarbrough in a runoff July 31, with the winner taking on either David Dewhurst or Ted Cruz in November.

In an interview this week with Dallas Voice, Sadler said he uses the term “marriage equality” because it’s more accurate than “same-sex marriage.” He said he’s corrected reporters who insisted on calling it “gay marriage.” That term, he said, implies that gay people and straight people get different rights from the government after marrying.

“I had friends involved in a long-term relationship,” Sadler said. “I was having to handle an estate with them and began to see how federal laws and tax laws affected them.”

Yarbrough, who said in a recent debate that he also supports marriage equailty, didn’t respond to requests for an interview.

To Sadler, the distinction between the functions of the state and churches is important. He said the state issues licenses to drive, to marry and other things, while a religion may or may not bless a marriage.

“Licensing in this country should be nondiscriminatory,” he said.

He said that the government issues marriage licenses in many cases where a religion would object to a particular marriage.

“Interfaith marriages, second marriages,” he said. “Some religions don’t approve of those. We shouldn’t be assigning a religious litmus test.”

Sadler said he’s very comfortable talking about his position on equality. If elected, he would support the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, which he called “a political act that was ill-conceived.” On these issues, he said, “the lack of understanding runs so deep.”

At its June 19 meeting, Stonewall Democrats of Dallas unanimously endorsed Sadler in the runoff.  The group had backed Sean Hubbard in the primary.

“He came and spoke to our membership on how he evolved on LGBT issues,” Stonewall President Omar Narvaez said. “He stands firm with the Texas Democratic platform.”

The new platform includes a strong statement in support of marriage equality.

Eli Olivarez, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, also said he supports Sadler. Olivarez’s local chapters, Stonewall Democrats of the Rio Grande

Valley, also previously endorsed Hubbard but has now endorsed Sadler in the runoff.

“I had questions with Paul on the way he voted,” Olivarez said. “But he was willing to say he evolved and supported us. He’s an open-minded candidate. Sincere.”

Openly gay former state Rep. Glen Maxey served in the state House during the same 12 years as Sadler.

“Paul is one of the most brilliant legislators that I worked with,” Maxey said. “He’s thoughtful, strategic. He evolved faster than the president.”

Former state Rep. Harryette Ehrhardt, who always championed LGBT rights issues, served concurrently with Sadler during four of his six terms. She agreed with Maxey’s assessment.

“I remember him as a person who is fair,” Ehrhardt said. “He’s smart. I’m wholeheartedly for him.”

She said he has the ability to work across the aisle.

“That’s something that’s missing in Washington now,” she said.

Maxey, who recently joined the Democratic National Committee with the goal of electing Democrats to statewide offices in Texas, said “I wish we were further along to make this race viable for him.”

Sadler said if he gets the nomination, he’ll have to work hard to win the general election. He said the numbers are there if the African-American vote and Hispanic vote comes out in force in a presidential year and he gets just 40 percent of the white vote.

Yarbrough’s second-place finish in the May 29 primary took the Democratic Party by surprise. The day after the primary, no one at the Dallas County Democratic

Party office could provide contact information for Yarbrough.

At the state party office, someone came up with a phone number after five minutes on hold. No one expected the 75-year-old candidate without a website to win 26 percent of the vote.

Maxey called Yarbrough a gadfly.

Narvaez said that the Yarbrough campaign didn’t return questionnaires to receive the group’s endorsement or respond to mailings that were sent certified.

This is Yarbrough’s fourth run for office, twice as a Republican and twice as a Democrat.

Yarbrough is running a one-person campaign without staff or volunteers, according to his Facebook page. He paid the $5,000 filing fee rather than gathering signatures and he’s spending his retirement savings rather than taking donations.

While Sadler met with as many delegates as he could at the state convention last month, Yarbrough didn’t attend Texas’ largest gathering of Democrats.

Yarbrough did, however, attend a debate recorded at KERA in Dallas on June 26.

On marriage equality, Yarbrough made it clear it is not a religious issue.

“We issue a license,” he said. “We have tax benefits for couples. Religion should not dictate policy.”

He referred to Reynolds v. United States, a case involving a Mormon’s right to polygamy.

He said the court ruled that religion shall not dictate federal policy and that the same principle should be applied to marriage equality.

“I support ending discrimination against any two individuals who love each other,” Yarbrough said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 6, 2012.