Lorie Burch

LORIE BURCH  |  Chairwoman, North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce

As chairwoman of the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce, I am disappointed with Mayor Tom Leppert’s recent statements denouncing the Obama Administration’s statement that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government and certain states from honoring same-sex marriages in other states and jurisdictions.

Mr. Leppert has purported to be an advocate of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community through his tenure as Dallas mayor. He’s been an honored guest at many of our community’s most prestigious events like the North Texas Chamber’s Anniversary Dinner and the Black Tie Dinner. He has been part of the International GLBT Press Tour, and helped to sell Dallas as a preferred destination for important GLBT conferences.

In light of his recent resignation as mayor, presumably to pursue Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s Senate seat, such a reversal is politicking at its worst and is a slap in the face to the North Texas GLBT community who have shown him its support.

It is time to expect more from our leaders. No longer should we tolerate this “back of the bus” argument that the GLBT community can have some rights, but not all rights. You cannot qualify equality and we deserve leaders who will stand up for us and be our voice and not cow-tow to their political base. Equality is not a political platform; it is the foundation of our country. Civil rights are not a matter of public opinion; they are a guarantee to us under our Constitution. It is, simply, our way of life.

Marriage equality is fundamental to the social and economic viability of North Texas and the nation. There are currently approximately 1,200 rights just at the federal level that same-sex couples do not enjoy because of DOMA. By supporting DOMA, Mr. Leppert, you are telling our community that our relationships, that our families, are not as legitimate or as deserving of protection and equal treatment as your own. You are telling the children of same-sex parents that their families are inferior to yours.

Without marriage equality, same-sex partners are not entitled to Social Security or inheritance, a partner cannot be covered on his or her partner’s employment benefits unless their company allows for domestic partnership and even at that, those benefits are taxed whereas benefits covering a spouse are not. These couples can’t cover families on health plans without paying taxes on coverage, not eligible for Medicare or Medicaid. Children are denied medical coverage because their parents do not have the freedom to choose the best insurance benefits. Many companies do not cover domestic partners or their children. Same-sex partners are not covered by laws and policies permitting people to take medical leave to care for sick spouse or kids. These couples are excluded from special rules permitting married couples to buy and own property together. Same-sex partners are denied withdrawal rights and protective tax treatment give to spouses with regard to IRAs and retirement plans. They cannot file joint tax returns and are excluded from tax benefits and claims specific to marriage. Additionally, they are denied right to transfer property to each other and pool family resources without tax consequences.

Lack of marriage equality prevents economic growth as corporations choose not to do business or locate headquarters in our area because they cannot provide employees with same rights and benefits as other states.

In his resignation speech the mayor said, “When I ran for mayor, I promised I would be the mayor for everyone, the mayor for all of Dallas, not just those that shared my opinions and views.” In one of his final acts in office he’s proved this not to be true. I encourage anyone in our community or who is an ally of our community to think long and hard about giving their support to another leader who has failed to live up to the promises he made to his constituents.

At the same time, I’d like to applaud the Obama administration’s declaration that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and will no longer dedicate federal resources to upholding the discriminatory law.

Right now, we need to decide what side of history we want to be on. If you could transport yourself back to the ’50s and ’60s in the time of racial integration, or back to 1920 when women won the right to vote, or any other major social justice victory … what side would you be on? I would dare say that the great majority of us would be on the side of justice, equality, and civil rights. It is very easy for us all to come down on that side. Yet, at that time, the “truth,” what was moral, what fell in line with tradition and religion was just as uncertain as it is now in the fight for gay equal rights. That is the benefit of hindsight. All of us have the choice to be on the right side of history.

Mr. Leppert, we will achieve fair treatment, we will achieve equal opportunity in employment, we will achieve safer schools, and, yes, we will achieve marriage equality, with or without your support. We can no longer be silent. I call on everyone in our community and those who support us to speak out about what we know in our hearts and minds is right. We know where we are going, and I am disappointed, Mr. Leppert, that you are on the wrong side of history.