The Austin City Council made history Thursday, becoming the first group of city leaders in the deeply conservative state of Texas to endorse marriage equality.
The council’s strongly worded resolution (PDF) condemning the Defense of Marriage Act, the nation’s ban on same sex marriage, was supported by a diverse coalition of civil rights groups, including Equality Texas, the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Anti-Defamation League and the Human Rights Campaign.
The resolution was also backed by a petition signed by more than 1,800 people living in and around the Austin metro area. It passed by unanimous vote shortly after 11 a.m. central, which happened to coincide with events in Washington, D.C. promoting National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.
“I’m very happy that I live in a community that continues to demonstrate that it respects the equality and the value of all of its residents,” Chuck Smith, interim director of Equality Texas, told Raw Story. “It is consistent with the principles and policies of the City of Austin to ensure that everyone who lives here is treated fairly.”
The resolution says in no uncertain terms that the Austin City Council will no longer abide discriminatory practices that deny the “powerful and important affirmation of love and commitment” that is civil marriage. “BE IT RESOLVED BY THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF AUSTIN,” the resolution concludes. “[We] support marriage equality in the State of Texas.”
Though Austin is a liberal stronghold that’s unique among Texas cities, even in the dark red areas of the map there have been signs of changing attitudes in the lone star state. Although voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2005 banning same sex marriage, an openly gay man nearly won a race for Dallas mayor just two years later, and his sexual orientation didn’t even come up as a campaign issue.
Voters in Houston also didn’t seem to think it was an issue in 2009 when they elected their first openly lesbian mayor. Additionally, five Texas mayors — from San Antonio, Galveston, Kyle, Austin and Shavano Park — signed a marriage equality petition created by the group Freedom to Marry. The mayor of El Paso, similarly, risked his political career earlier this year to vocally support health benefits for unmarried domestic partners.
“Texas is not different than the rest of the country in terms of its evolution on the freedom to marry,” Smith said. “The initial pushback we get from opponents is, ‘We settled this in 2005, what don’t you understand?’ And the reality is that 2012 is not the same as 2005. There are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who have had some sort of personal evolution on this issue… who now recognize that the world is not going to end and [equal rights] will not affect their relationship.”