It’s been a busy few months for Houston Mayor Annise Parker — Lone Star Q’s 2013 Person of the Year.
In September, Parker announced plans for an LGBT-inclusive citywide nondiscrimination ordinance. Then, after being re-elected to a third and final term in November, she extended benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees who are legally married in other states — resulting in two lawsuits against the city. (While Parker became the first out LGBT person elected mayor of a top 10 U.S. city in 2009, until now it was also the only major city in Texas without citywide nondiscrimination and partner benefits.)
Finally, late last week, reports surfaced that Parker plans to marry her longtime partner, Kathy Hubbard, in January in California.
And that’s just the LGBT-related stuff.
In the midst of it all, Parker found time for an interview with Lone Star Q, during which she made headlines by calling Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty a “redneck wingnut” whose views are “completely irrelevant.” But on a far more relevant topic, she also confirmed that she intends to run for statewide office in 2018 — without saying which one. With 36 hours left in 2013, it leaves you to wonder how much more news Parker can make.
Read my interview with her conducted on Friday, Dec. 20, below.
Lone Star Q: Let’s talk about the most recent thing first. What’s next on same-sex benefits?
Mayor Annise Parker: I believe I am on firm legal ground. I didn’t do this to invoke a lawsuit. It’s not a political statement. It is the right thing to do. It’s very clear that, after the Supreme Court ruling [striking down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act], that there is there’s one standard of marriage, that either you are legally married or you are not, and we’re just in the phase of that realization working its way through the state. If the federal government is now recognizing the very same marriages that I am recognizing — Texas has a defense of marriage law that prohibits gay marriages, so I’m not sanctioning new marriages. I’m not marrying people. I’m not trying to flaunt the law of the state of Texas. I’m simply recognizing legal relationships that were submitted in other states. It’s very telling that the chair of the Harris County Republican Party is the one who brought this legal action against us. The plaintiffs are two very active members of the local Republican Party. He forum-shopped to put this before a Republican family court judge, which is still an odd choice to us, to have a family court judge for this. And recognizing the political aspects of what the other side is doing, we’re going to continue to defend our position vigorously, and we think we’re ultimately going to be prevail.
LSQ: There’s growing speculation that this has the potential to be the case, or one of the cases, the U.S. Supreme Court uses to strike down state marriage amendments as unconstitutional. Was that your plan?
AP: No. Obviously, we were not unaware that litigation could result, but our position was very clear, and immediately in the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling, is when we started exploring whether this would be an appropriate step, because we have an additional element in Houston that other cities in Texas don’t have. There is state law — the state of Texas will not sanction a same-sex marriage — but the the city of Houston has a charter provision that prohibits offering domestic partner benefits. I’ve been in a domestic relationship for nearly 23 years, and my spouse does not receive benefits from the city. She’s still not going to receive benefits from the city because we’re not legally married. But the charter language that prohibits domestic partner benefits is really crystal clear in that it says that the city will offer benefits, such as health care benefits, to legal spouses, and if you put that charter language next to the Supreme Court ruling, it says well, OK, this is what we’re supposed to do. Fully expecting a legal response back, and fully prepared for that, we’re going to play it out and defend it vigorously. When I say we didn’t do it in order to be a case that goes to the Supreme Court — we did it because it was the right thing to do, with the full understanding that others might decide to litigate.
LSQ: The cynics in the LGBT community have questioned why you waited until your final term to do this. How do you respond to that?
AP: Because the Supreme Court didn’t rule. When did that Supreme Court ruling come down? … That’s when I set the city attorney to work looking at this.
I will bow to the cynics. I had a political campaign and so did a number of my council members, and it’s a whole lot easier to get things done down here when politics is off the table. The timing was such, with the actual announcement, I waited until after the election was over, no question, but we started working on it as soon as the Supreme Court ruling, because it was a groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling, and absent that Supreme Court ruling, I still wouldn’t be doing this.
LSQ: You’ve also announced plans for a nondiscrimination ordinance. What is the status of that?
AP: That is something that I have said actually prior to being elected mayor, that before I leave office, we will have a nondiscrimination ordinance in the city of Houston. And I clearly and consistently said it wouldn’t be my highest priority, and that my first job as mayor was to step in and navigate the city through the recession, fix the major problems that we had, but that before I leave we would have that ordinance. And so, yes, I’m about to embark on my last term, and clearly I expect to have a nondiscrimination passed early in the last term. … I have not presented anything to city council, but I am working with the legal department to draft the proposed ordinance and I have spoken with representatives of the major GLBT organizations that would be interested in this — the [Houston GLBT] Political Caucus, the Human Rights Campaign, the Victory Fund, Equality Texas, the big players — as to what direction we can go. It’s easy to say pass a nondiscrimination ordinance. What exactly to you mean? There are all different kinds of nondiscrimination ordinances, so I have had conversations with those entities about what form ours should take.
LSQ: What’s next for you after your term expires at the end of 2015? There’s been a lot of talk that you will run for statewide office as a Democrat in 2016 or 2018.
AP: I don’t intend to run for anything until I’m done as mayor. Unfortunately, in 2016, there’s not a lot out there, so I probably will need to go back into the private sector for a while, but I hope that while mayor of Houston is the best political job I would ever have, I hope it’s not my last political job. … I would certainly be interested in looking statewide. [I'm] not trying to be coy. People talked to me about running in 2014 as a Democrat for one of the statewide positions. I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks about that, but I made the commitment to serve as mayor of Houston and to do my best for the city for as long as I could. I just wasn’t in that place. I’ve also been fairly public that what I’m most interested in in terms of a future political position is something where I’m in an administrative or an executive position. [With] due respect to my members of Congress down here, I’ve been the CEO of a $5 billion corporation. I like to get things done, and the idea of, say, running for Congress, doesn’t excite me. … [It will be] a statewide executive position.