Q&A with Annise Parker

Houston's former mayor talks about marriage quality, spending 23 years with the same woman, and her own almost-private wedding day.

In early January, Annise Parker ended her six years of serving as the trailblazing lesbian mayor of the nation’s fourth largest city. She and her wife, Kathy Hubbard, have three adopted children and married in 2014 in Palm Springs, not long after the Supreme Court issued its United States v. Windsor decision overturning the odious federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and it concurrently declined to rule on a case concerning California’s Proposition 8 same-sex marriage ban—decisions that effectively restored marriage equality to the Golden State.

Speaking with us on one of the first days in more than two decades that she wasn’t working in an office in City Hall, Parker says: “I wasn’t the gay mayor of Houston. I was just the mayor of Houston. I tried to make sure that Kathy and I were treated just exactly as other mayors had been. It was simply, ‘This is the way it’s going to be.’”

LWT: Tell us about your own wedding day and ceremony.

AP: It was a very small and intimate affair. My mother was there, Kathy’s sister was there, some other relatives and friends were there. We married in the backyard of a friend of my wife. Our two best friends are two gay men—we briefly thought about having a midnight wedding where they got married right before midnight, and we got married after midnight, but we’re too old for that. Unfortunately for me, some folks in Houston knew I was getting married and spilled the beans, and there was a camera crew outside. There were pictures of us leaving the venue.

LWT: Had you thought about getting married for many years?

Annise-Parker2AP: I’ve been a lesbian activist since the ‘70s, and marriage has been one of the rights we’ve been fighting for. I’d said I wasn’t going to get married until I could do it in my home state of Texas, and I fully intended to keep that promise, but when the [Windsor] decision came out of the Supreme Court…it caused me to reevaluate—I hate to say it—for practical reasons, to not hold out. The day it was announced, our youngest daughter called and said, “Does this mean that you and Mommy are going to get married now?” I thought about it, and I didn’t have a good reason why not, so we did.

LWT: In what ways was your experience as a mayor different from other mayors?

AP: We had to figure out how Kathy would be addressed. I was very clear that she was first lady. But some people had a hard time with that. Because we had a prohibition on domestic partnership benefits, she was not allowed to access my insurance, and because she’s self-employed, her insurance is really expensive. So I was effectively paid less than other mayors because I didn’t have access to those benefits.

LWT: Has getting married made a difference to your relationship?

AP: Yes, it feels different. It absolutely feels different. I didn’t think it would make that much difference, but it does.

LWT: So you would recommend it to others?

AP: Absolutely.

LWT: How have attitudes toward LGBT people changed in Houston and Texas since you were first elected to city government two decades ago?

AP: The laws have changed, but attitudes have changed alongside them—and the two have had to go hand in hand for us to secure our rights. I still think that Texas is a place where you can succeed based on what you can do and what your skill sets are. If [being a lesbian] were the only thing that people knew about me, I never would have been elected mayor of Houston. No one voted for me because of that. Houston is still a city where you can make your future.