Thursday, September 12, 2013

The curious case of the missing domestic partnership benefits in Houston *update*

Noah at Texpatriate.

The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker has doubled down on her calls to institute a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people in Houston.

Do go read the Chron piece and then pick it up with Texpat again. I'll excerpt.

When Mayor Lee Brown took office in 1998, he issued an executive order forbidding municipal employees from discrimination because of sexual orientation. In 2010, Mayor Parker took office, she expanded this to also include gender identity. The San Antonio ordinance, by comparison, prohibits employment discrimination in all forms and bans all city-condoned discrimination, including in public housing.

Gay rights has a somewhat long and tumultuous history in this city. In 1984, the City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Kathy Whitmire, passed an ordinance protecting municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The next year, voters strongly disavowed the ordinance, in an epic moment of homophobia that climaxed with Louie Welch saying the solution to the AIDS epidemic was to “shoot the queers.”

Mayor Brown restored the protections in 1998, and attempted to push through a domestic partnership package near the end of his career, in 2001. At that point, a charter amendment was approved –with a mere 52% of the vote– to ban any “plus-one” benefits for municipal employees. If 2001, the height of the culture wars and homophobia, could only muster 52% in support of discrimination, a repeal effort would surely cruise to victory today.

Noah goes on to observe that Parker (and Ben Hall and Eric Dick) have all straddled the fence on this issue. I can't say that the equivocation surprises me.

In our bloggers' luncheon with the mayor last week, this topic barely came up.  In fact I have nothing in my notes at all about it, though do remember some brief mention.  (We spent several minutes on annexation, for some ridiculous reason.)  You may recall that CNN's John King raised it with Parker in a personal way, asking when she would be able to marry her partner Kathy in Houston.  Watch the video again to see how she dodged the question with her answer.  For his part, Ben Hall did speak the truth in the same segment when he said "Anybody who brings up that issue, I think, misserves the city."

Most of the city's largest corporations now offer domestic partnership benefits, which in strange irony makes them more liberal than the City of Houston.  And as I have posted before, 2013 has been a very good year for gay people all across the country.  But the progress locally seems to have stalled out over the past decade. 

As far as the current election season goes -- and to be brutally candid about it -- there isn't a single mayoral candidate that wants to publicly broach this subject in strong support or opposition.  And the reason is that they are all too risk-averse with segments of the electorate that have strong views about the topic -- and are at diametric odds.

Because there will be a runoff anyway -- sorry, but you're wrong again, Bob -- and because both the HGLBT Caucus and the one headed by Dave Wilson carry significant influence and votes in Houston city elections, all of the candidates with something to lose are going to 1) march in the Pride Parade and 2) refuse to go on the record about the San Antonio ordinance and its prospects for passage in Houston.

Which should tell you everything you need to know about leadership, and principles, and convictions (beyond simply getting elected, that is).

Update: From the comments, Texas Leftist provides the interview with Parker where she is on the record about San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance. Here's the important part (Parker speaking).

I am unwilling to bring an issue forward when I know there aren't sufficient votes to pass it. A non-discrimination ordinance would be important, but I am more interested in seeing discrimination removed from our city charter.

The city is prohibited by charter from offering domestic partner benefits or from recognizing the domestic relationships of our gay and lesbian employees. It would require a vote of the citizens to undo. I hope Council will join me in placing it on the ballot at the appropriate time.

And here's Parker speaking again, quoted by the Chron.

"It is absolutely something we should do, and the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance," ... "But this is an issue that requires all of council to be engaged and agree it is time to move it forward. When it happens, we will do that."

Parker's spokeswoman Janice Evans said no action is expected before next year, and no specifics have been discussed.

Considering the time elapsed between quotes (April 2013 and September) and the momentum for equality that has been building all summer, let's leave the contradictions aside and take the more recent statement at face value.  What, then, are we waiting for now?  I know the answer to this question already: "after the election in November, and the runoff in December".

As a refresher, Houston's government is of the "strong" mayor variety. Nothing happens without the mayor's initiative.  Bill White's claim to fame as a leader was that he sought consensus before items came up at council meetings for a vote. So is there a majority on council in favor... or not?   Is the charter language really the primary hindrance, or is somebody afraid of what Greg Abbott might do?

Yes, the city charter should be revised, but the work done to have that on the ballot could have been undertaken a long time ago.  As in years ago.

Wayne (Texas Leftist) made the same point in April that I'm making now: in terms of advocating for non-discrimination, the time is now -- as in yesterday, or sometime in the past four years, and even in the six years before that, when Houston had another too-cautious, too-conservative Democrat for a mayor.

Update II: To clarify, it is a fair criticism of this post to to say that there is plenty of evidence of vocal support for a non-discrimination ordinance among council and the mayor. I could have written that there is "no evidence of support for holding a vote" on the matter, in order to have been the most accurate.

1 comment:

texas leftist said...

Mayor Parker has been caught on record about the non-discrimination ordinance before, but not on domestic partner benefits.