Fort Worth councilman pushes for marriage equality

Posted Monday, Nov. 11, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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Councilman Joel Burns and his partner have been hoping for marriage equality in Texas for over 20 years, since they first said their vows. Now Burns thinks marriage equality in the state is within sight, just two or three years out.

But the action probably won’t come from the Legislature, Burns said at the Dallas Democratic Forum. Instead, he thinks marriage equality will come from the federal government.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which barred same-sex couples from receiving more than 1,000 federal benefits, including filing joint tax returns, Social Security survivor benefits and immigration status, Burns and his partner, J.D. Angle, might be able to file federal income taxes together for the first time.

“It is hard not to be impatient as you see friends in other states who are now having their marriages legally recognized in their homes. It is hard not be envious of them,” Burns said.

Burns was a panelist at the forum along with state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso; the Rev. Jo Hudson, an adjunct professor and interim director of Chapel at the Brite Divinity School; and Kenneth Upton Jr., senior staff attorney at Lamdba Legal. They spoke about upcoming challenges for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Gonzales, who when elected was known as the only openly gay Texas lawmaker, said many of the anti-LGBT laws in Texas were passed because there wasn’t an LGBT legislator at the table to fight for their rights. Gonzalez later told reporters she is a pansexual, someone who is attracted to other people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

Having an advocate at the table is just as important at the local level as it is in Austin, Burns said.

“When we go into executive session and it is just the nine of us, the city manager and the city attorney, the conversation is different because I’m sitting there,” Burns said of Fort Worth council meetings.

As an example, Burns said adding protection for transgender people in 2009 to the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance was an uphill battle and might not have passed had he not been on the council to see it through.

Michael Openshaw, one of the founders of the North Central Texas Tea Party, said same-sex marriages are not an issue the Tea Party advocates against, but he personally believes in the traditional family unit.

“I am a supporter of civil unions, legal remedies to make sure they have the same legal rights, but calling it marriage is redefining a word that has been in its state for several thousands of years,” Openshaw said.

Dr. Anny Wong of Dallas has been with her partner for 17 years and is an advocate for same-sex marriage. Wong and her partner married in Canada, but she said they face challenges everyday because Texas and other states won’t recognize their marriage.

Filing taxes, the event of a death, inheritance and power of attorney are all complicated and expensive issues until every state recognizes their marriage, Wong said.

“It is really a mess and for someone in our situation. It is clearly not over until there is a uniform situation across the country,” Wong said.

Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter, @CatyHirst

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