News Analysis: Same-sex marriage in Houston
Published: Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2012 15:05
Last week witnessed important events in the decades-old controversy of same-sex marriage. First, on Tuesday, the state of North Carolina passed an amendment banning homosexual unions and joining many other conservative states, including Texas, in defining marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. Then, on Wednesday, President Barack Obama told ABC News that his evolving position toward homosexual rights had changed and he now fully supports gay marriage. While the motivations of this change remain unclear, this unprecedented statement supporting gay marriage by an American president has received attention across all corners of the United States, including in Rice’s hometown.
Houston is a unique city for LGBT rights. A 2005 amendment to Texas’ constitution bans all gay marriage in Texas, and many types of discrimination against homosexuals remain legal in Houston as well as the state at large. Many advocates for gay rights do not see this changing any time soon. Amanda Mills (Sid Rich ’12), president of Rice Queers and Allies, said that Texas will most likely be a holdout for same-sex marriage. Noel Freeman, president of the advocacy group Houston GLBT Caucus, was more blunt. “No,” was Freeman’s response when asked if he sees Texas issuing marriage license for gay couples anytime soon.
However, while it may be located in a conservative state with restrictive laws, Houston itself is fairly progressive. In 2009 the city elected openly lesbian Anise Parker (Jones ’78) as its mayor. Parker’s communications director, Janice Evans, said this speaks volumes about the city’s friendliness toward LGBT issues.
“Her election is evidence of the tolerance that Houstonians have for diversity and a clear indication that Houston is accepting,” Evans said.
Freeman agreed, and said that Houston is a welcoming place. Mills said she feels this tolerance extends to Rice, giving it a “high grade” for tolerance in relation to the rest of the state.
While Houston may be generally accepting towards gay rights that does not mean everyone is happy with the city’s position.
“Advocating gay marriage between homosexuals? You are advocating for the extinction of our society,” Houstonians for Family Values President Dave Wilson said. “It’s illogical.”
Furthermore, pro-LGBT forces believe that Houston needs to do more.
“Discrimination is definitely the number one issue for our organization,” Freeman said. “It is still 100% legal to fire, deny housing, or kick someone out of a business because of their sexuality in Texas.”
The activist has not just dealt with such behavior in the abstract.
“I remember when I was in college at A&M leasing an apartment,” Freeman said. “Before I could sign the contract the landlord asked if I was gay. It was a determining factor if I could get housing.”
Even if everyone in Houston were in favor of gay marriage, it is unclear how its legalization would come about. In his remarks, Obama said that he favors a state-based approach to marriage. Due to the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, a gay marriage in one state is not recognized in another. Some feel that that this stops short of what is necessary to ensure equality.
“There should be a nationwide standard of LGBT equality,” Mills said.
Freeman agrees but concedes that the controversy presents complicated constitutional issues. However, despite the nuances and politics supporters of LGBT rights generally share the same goal.
“The mayor would love the opportunity to marry her life partner and wants to do so in her home state,” Evans said. “Whether its legal in Texas or the country doesn’t matter to her.”