This past week brought some major news out of Houston, Houston Is Largest City to Elect Openly Gay Mayor. Way to go Lone Star State! The win is impressive, as is the new mayor, Annise Parker. Ms. Parker graduated from a high school in Charleston, SC. Her mom still lives here, though they do not agree on politics (Ms. Parker acknowledges that she comes from a long line of Republicans). According to her mom, she was quite shy as a youngster. Clearly, she has gotten over that.
Anyway, this isn’t her first rodeo in politics, though, as the article makes clear:
Houston became the largest city in the United States to elect an openly gay mayor on Saturday night, as voters gave a solid victory to the city controller, Annise Parker.
Cheers and dancing erupted at Ms. Parker’s campaign party as her opponent, fellow Democrat Gene Locke, a former city attorney, conceded defeat just after 10 p.m. when it became clear he could not overcome her lead.
Twenty minutes later, Ms. Parker appeared before ecstatic supporters at the city’s convention center and then joked that she was the first graduate of Rice University to be elected mayor. (She is, by the way.) Then she grew serious.
“Tonight the voters of Houston have opened the door to history,” she said, standing by her partner of 19 years, Kathy Hubbard, and their three adopted children. “I acknowledge that. I embrace that. I know what this win means to many of us who never thought we could achieve high office.”
With all precincts reporting, Ms. Parker had defeated Mr. Locke by 53 percent to 47 percent.
Throughout the campaign, Ms. Parker tried to avoid making an issue of her sexual orientation and emphasized her experience in overseeing the city’s finances. But she began her career as an advocate for gay rights in the 1980s, and it was lost on no one in Houston, a city of 2.2 million people, that her election marked a milestone for gay men and lesbians around the country.
Indeed, quite a milestone, to be sure, but a tad bit disappointing that she avoided making the connections. Of course, it is understandable that she would emphasize her experience and qualifications (what a concept!), but I am not sure why te two were mutually exclusive. Still, it’s pretty damn cool.
Of course, Ms. Parker isn’t the first out mayor:
Several smaller cities in other regions have chosen openly gay mayors, among them Providence, R.I., Portland, Ore., and Cambridge, Mass. But Ms. Parker’s success came in a conservative state where voters have outlawed gay marriage and a city where a referendum on granting benefits to same-sex partners of city employees was soundly defeated.
Turnout was light across the city on a rainy, foggy day, with only about 16 percent of registered voters going to the polls.
Ms. Parker’s sexual orientation did not become an issue in the race until after the general election produced no winner and led to a run-off between her and Mr. Locke, who is black and enjoys strong support among African-American voters.
The two Democrats differed very little on the issues. Mr. Locke, who is 61, promised to crack down on crime and expand the police department. Ms. Parker, 53, said her experience as controller made her a better candidate to steer the city through the tough financial times it now faces.
The candidates also started slinging stones at one another in final weeks as it became clear neither had a huge advantage in the few polls conducted here. Mr. Locke bashed Ms. Parker as “soft on crime” and suggested she favors tax increases. She portrayed him as nothing more than a lobbyist for developers.
They forgot Cary, NC. Just saying. It’s a shame that the stones started flying near the end, but we all know that is not unprecedented by any stretch.
What is worse is this:
But the ugliest attacks came from a group of black pastors who spoke out against Ms. Parker for what they called her gay agenda and two separate anti-gay advocates who sent out fliers in the mail calling attention to her support from gay groups and to her relationship with her partner. Mr. Locke denied having anything to do with the attacks, but two members of his finance committee gave $40,000 to help finance one of the mailings.
Some national gay-rights groups, meanwhile, came to the aid of Ms. Parker’s campaign with money and volunteers to staff telephone banks in a get-out-the-vote effort and to urge her likely supporters to vote.
Political strategists said that to win, Mr. Locke needed to carry a large majority of the black vote, which is usually around a third of the turnout, and to attract significant support from conservative whites, many of them Republicans, who are also about a third of the voting mix here.
Oh, that pesky “gay agenda” – demanding the same rights extended to every other American citizen. Damn us! Ahem.
Naturally, Ms. Parker’s supporters were mighty happy:
The crowd at Ms. Parker’s speech included dozens of young gay men and lesbians who had volunteered on her campaign. Many were elated with the sense of history being made.
“It’s a huge step forward for Houston,” said one of the volunteers, Lindsey Dionne, who is lesbian. “It shows hate will not prevail in this city.”
Robert Shipman, who is gay and worked long hours for Ms. Parker, said: “The diversity in this room, it’s not just gay people, it’s gay, straight, black, white, Jew, Christian, Muslim, every kind of person. It took all of us to get to this point.”
For his part, Mr. Locke was gracious in defeat, calling for unity after what had sometimes been a heated campaign. “We have to all work together to bring our city closer and closer together,” he said.
Ms. Parker appeared to have cobbled together a winning coalition of white liberals and gay people, who were expected to turn out in large numbers.
Rachel Marcus contributed reporting from Houston.
Congratulations to Ms. Parker. This is quite an achievement, and she deserved it. Well done!
And while I am at it, D.C. Council Votes to Allow Same-Sex Marriage, Mayor Fenty to Sign, Congressional Hurdles Remain for D.C. Gay Marriage After City Council’s Approval. How about that? Another piece of good news, at least for the time being:
The D.C. Council today voted overwhelmingly for the final time to legalize same-sex marriage in Washington D.C., with two council members opposing.
“This legislation is an important and historic step towards equal dignity, equal respect and equal rights for same-sex couples here in our nation’s capital, which also preserves the right of clergy and congregations to adhere to their faiths,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
The legislation passed today would allow same-sex couples to be married in D.C., along with five other states, but not require clergy or religious organizations to provide services, accommodations, or facilities for the services.
That seems fair to me. Of course, the denomination that ordained me has been doing same-sex marriages for a lot of years now, so there’s that. I appreciate that is not the case for (too) many, though.
The passage was expected:
The clear majority vote was not a surprise to oberservers (sic) who anticipated the bill’s easy passage today. The night before, Councilmen Harry Thomas and David Catania addressed a rally of about 350 supporters at the Kennedy Recreation Center in Washington D.C.
Catania, one of two openly gay council members who first introduced the legislation, asked supporters not to hold the two opposing votes against Councilman Marion Barry and Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, and said that their “no” votes respected the wishes of their constituencies.
“I want to thank the two who are not with us. Not because they are not with us now. But because they have been with us so often on so many other issues,” Catania said.
The D.C. measure, which first passed Dec. 1, by the same wide 11-2 margin, reinforces the nationwide trend towards gay marriage in legislatures and at the courthouse even though advocates of same-sex marriage are continuing to falter whenever the issue is put directly to a public vote.
That was a gracious thing to say by Catania, a rare action in politics these days, it seems. Still, wassup with the two not voting “Yay”?
But this ain’t a done deal yet:
The historic legislation faces a series of hurdles before gays can officially tie the knot in the nation’s capital.
Mayor Adrian Fenty, a Democrat, still must sign the bill into law, which he has pledged to do most likely before Christmas. From the time the mayor signs the gay-marriage bill, Congress will have 30 legislative days to enact a joint resolution of disapproval. President Obama would have to sign that resolution for the city law to be blocked.
If approved by the Democractic-controlled Congress as observers say they expect it will be, gay marriage is on track to become legal in Washington by late January, making it the first jurisdiction below the Mason-Dixon Line to allow full civil equality for gays and lesbians.
But even if a resolution of disapproval is not enacted, members of Congress can try to attach an anti-gay marriage rider to another piece of legislation.
The top Republican on the House subcommittee which oversees the district is considering a variety of legislative methods for blocking gay marriage there, including the appropriations process.
“Some people legitimately and often ask: ‘Why is it that a congressman from Utah, or anyplace else, is sticking their nose in this?” asked Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution says that in all cases, the Congress shall oversee the laws of Washington, D.C., and that is what we’re trying to do.”
While Chaffetz is confident that gay marriage could not survive an up or down vote in the Congress, the Utah Republican acknowledges that the House’s liberal leadership will almost certainly thwart any efforts to block gay marriage from coming to a vote.
“I still think traditional marriage would win” if it were put to an up or down vote, said Chaffetz. But “procedurally, I think they’ve got an iron grip on their ability to block it from coming up for a vote,” he added, referring to the House’s Democratic leadership.
Beyond the efforts taking place in Congress, an additional anti-gay marriage effort is being made in D.C. Superior Court.
A group called Stand4MarriageDC wants a ballot measure which says that “only marriage between man and woman” should be “valid or recognized” in the city.
Last month, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics ruled that allowing residents to vote on a gay marriage ban would violate Washington’s 1977 Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination.
The Stand4MarriageDC group is now suing in Superior Court on the theory that if the Council has the right to change the law in order to allow same-sex couples to marry, then the people have the right to make laws on the same subject.
“I think proponents of same-sex marriage are afraid of having a vote because traditional marriage typically wins,” said Chaffetz.
Unfortunately, that has been the case thus far. But that doesn’t mean the fight isn’t worth figthting:
The architect of today’s gay marriage legislation countered by saying that questions about minority rights should not be left to votes of the people. To make his argument, D.C. City Councilmember David Catania noted that the district had a referendum in 1865 in which only 36 of the city’s residents voted to extend the franchise to African-American males.
“It isn’t that I’m fearful of losing,” Catania told ABC News. “I think the process is diminishing. I think that putting the rights of minorities on the ballot and allowing the forces of intolerance to spend an unlimited amount to demonize and marginalize a population is … unsavory.”
The groundwork for today’s vote was laid in May of this year when the D.C. Council voted to recognize gay marriages performed in other states.
Catania says that while the May vote may seem incremental, it was in fact the bigger leap.
“We’re fighting about whether or not couples have to get on a plane to get married–not whether or not they can,” said Catania. “It’s about where the marriage should take place–not whether or not it is the lawful equivalent of a heterosexual marriage. That happened over the summer.”
The latest ballot-box defeat for gay marriage came last month when Maine became the 31st state to use a public referendum to block gay and lesbian couples from marrying. The residents of Maine voted to repeal a state statute passed by the legislature and signed by the governor which would have permitted gays and lesbians to marry. Maine’s gay-marriage statute had not yet taken effect, awaiting the outcome of the referendum.
The decision on the part of voters in Maine to exercise the “people’s veto” amounted to a tough loss for gay marriage advocates who were hoping to score a ballot-box victory after seeing court-mandated gay marriage repealed last year in California by Proposition 8.
While the ballot-box defeats in Maine and California have given conservatives a populist argument against gay marriage, proponents of marriage equality have scored important judicial victories in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa as well as legislative victories in Vermont and New Hampshire.
As my dear friend, Connie, would say, “Cool beans!” Indeed, two big achievements for the GLBT community in just one week. Wow!
And yet, it is hard to truly delight in these achievements after the news my partner delivered the other night after we got home from our vacation. Her company is changing insurance companies, and we thought everything was all set. Turns out, when they had quoted how much it would cost to have me on her insurance, it was for MARRIED couples, not domestic partners. That little change is going to cost us an additional $2,400 a year, because we are not able to be legally married. It doesn’t matter one whit that we have been together for almost 14 years. While I celebrate the achievements in other states, it doesn’t change some very basic issues, like insurance, at least not for Blue Cross Blue Shield of NJ.
So I am happy for Ms. Parker, and happy for D.C., but there are real-world differences that none of that changes, and this would be one of them. As noted above, the financial differences are many, and in too many cases, mighty costly. But we are over a barrel – I need it, and only a big group policy like this will not exclude my pre-existing conditions. I have to say, it pisses me off. In a big way.
Anyway, congratulations to Ms. Parker – this is historic indeed, and not just because she went to Rice University. All the best to her in her new position.