Before the fight for gay marriage, gay and lesbian couples struggled for domestic partner benefits. It was just 12 years ago that we finally ruled sodomy laws unconstitutional (though Texas’ unenforceable law still sits on the books, despite the years-long efforts of some at the legislature to address that lingering stain). Before that, non-discrimination ordinances were the cutting edge civil rights tool for the growing community of people brave enough to come out of the closet. Fifty years ago, gays and lesbians fought to stay out of mental hospitals and jails.
That was Mayor Annise Parker’s message for Houston Friday, that through the tireless efforts of the LGBT community to make the tide of justice turn quickly this time around, gay and lesbian couples have made remarkable, enormous strides over the past half-century.
From the very beginning, the speech was deeply personal. “At Last,” she said in a calm staccato; when Parker married her longtime partner at a ceremony in California last year, their first dance as a married couple was to that Etta James song. Parker looked down at the ring on her finger. “The rings that we exchanged 18 months ago now mean something in Texas,” she told the crowd gathered at Discovery Green. “We have come a long way since Stonewall.”
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Parker’s message – “we have come a long way in the past 50 years” –holds particular significance for Houston. The first openly gay candidate for a serious political office in the United States wasn’t elected until 1975. Houston made international headlines in 2009 when it made Parker the first openly gay mayor of a major American city. Parker, along with her family, has in some respects become a symbol of just how mainstream the LGBT community has become. She has served to underscore the idea that LGBT rights advocates aren’t radicals, that they live ordinary, even mundane domestic lives.
Before heading to the stage Friday, Parker milled about the crowd as teary-eyed friends and supporters stopped to hug take photos with her. She congratulated couples like Ashley and Jacquelyn Creath, who after being together for nearly a decade were finally granted a Texas marriage license Friday.
When asked what Friday’s Supreme Court ruling means to them, their immediate response was purely practical, not some abstract thought about justice and the power of love.
The Creaths will never again have to worry about things like child custody, power of attorney or hospital visitation rights. “What happened today … it made me safe. It made my wife safe, it made my family safe,” Ashley said.