Over the past few weeks, state Sen. Wendy Davis, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, has clarified her position on a number of issues, including the question of same-sex marriage. Almost nonchalantly, Davis lent her full support to the issue on Feb. 13.
“It’s my strong belief that when people love each other and are desirous of creating a committed relationship with each other that they should be allowed to marry, regardless of their sexual orientation,” Davis told the editorial board of the San Antonio Express-News. Immediately, Davis’ liberal supporters celebrated her newly expressed support for what many call the new civil rights movement of our generation.
However, what is far more impressive than Davis’ support itself is how normal it all seems. In this day and age, the only Democratic officials who still oppose same-sex marriage are holdover Dixiecrats (the colloquialism for close-minded Southern Democrats who stood in opposition to the Civil Rights Act) with fiercely conservative social views, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AK) or Joe Manchin (D-WV). This is an amazing transformation from four — or even two — years ago, when Democrats, particularly in Texas, were enormously cautious on the subject. While many other Democratic gubernatorial candidates over the years have been unabashedly progressive on other gay rights issues, Davis is the first to lend full support to marriage equality on the campaign trail.
Chris Bell is a former Houston City Council member and congressman who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2006. Throughout his campaign, he reiterated support for civil unions and opposition to amending the constitution to ban such unions, but steered clear of marriage. Many years later, as Bell is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for mayor of Houston in 2015, he notes that his opinion has changed.
“I support same-sex marriage and I would have to say my opinion has evolved,” Bell recently told me. “I guess it started changing in 2007 or 2008 when a friend told me he and his wife attended a same-sex wedding and it was one of the most moving ceremonies they had ever seen.” By 2012, a Huffington Post article had noted his complete change of heart.
This was similar to the sentiment held by Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party since 2012. Hinojosa’s opinion also changed in advance of the 2012 elections.
The floodgates truly opened in May 2012, following an announcement by President Barack Obama that he unequivocally supported same-sex marriage. Obama’s change of heart helped to change the views of religious African-Americans, a key demographic that both largely voted Democratic and fervently opposed same-sex marriage. In the following months, even the Texas Democratic Party — now under the leadership of Hinojosa — changed its platform to recognize the right to same-sex marriage.
The United States, with the Democratic Party in particular, has made great strides in advancing this cause. While just 10 years ago, many ascribed the reelection of President George W. Bush to heavy turnout among evangelicals who were voting for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage, many see the social issue as only detrimental to the Republicans in this day and age. Texas has also seen significant progress. While in 2005, more than 76 percent of the electorate supported a constitutional amendment banning both same-sex marriage and civil unions, a 2013 poll by the University of Texas showed barely 26 percent of registered voters still felt that way.
Until quite recently, however, you would have never known about this shift just from the sentiment of public officials. As the Republican Party’s primary electorate glides further and further to the right, bigots such as Phil Robertson (of the show “Duck Dynasty”) who decry the very existence of gays and lesbians are sadly still considered mainstream. Just ask Sen. Ted Cruz or Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, and their conciliatory comments about those who compare homosexuality with bestiality.
“We affirm that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society and contributes to the breakdown of the family unit,” the 2012 Texas Republican Platform even states. “Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans.”
Luckily, on the other side of the aisle, Wendy Davis has become the first major Texas candidate to make the leap into the 21st century on this issue. Let’s hope the first officeholder to affirm LGBTQ rights comes soon as well.
Horwitz is a government junior from Houston.