HOUSTON—One day more than two decades ago, an accountant looking for new clients walked into a small bookstore in the Montrose area and struck up a conversation with the owner.
“Apparently, there was some chemistry,” one of their friends recalled.
They were both quiet, shy people. But soon enough they started dating, eventually moving into the same home and raising three children together.
“I mean, it was just such a nice match,” said Sue Lovell, a longtime friend of the couple. “They complemented each other so well that I think probably everybody thought this was something that was going to last a long time.”
Today the bookstore is a music shop specializing in vintage vinyl records. The accountant runs a small but successful financial services company. And the former bookstore owner is the mayor of Houston.
And now, Mayor Annise Parker and her longtime companion Kathy Hubbard have become the highest-profile same-sex couple in Houston.
“This is a very happy day for us,” Parker said in a written statement. “We have had to wait a very long time to formalize our commitment to each other.”
Houston’s first couple married in a small ceremony at a private home in Palm Springs, California, one of the states that – unlike Texas – has essentially legalized gay marriage. They wrote their own vows for a ceremony presided over by Rev. Paul Fromberg, the same-sex marriage partner of the mayor’s political consultant, Grant Martin.
“I am privileged to now be the wife of the woman I have loved for more than two decades,” Parker posted on Twitter. “I couldn’t be happier.”
Within hours, though, their wedding became fodder for some harsh political attacks. Some social conservative Republicans criticized the nuptials as part of a broader political agenda.
“This is obviously part of a larger strategy of hers to turn Texas into California,” said a written statement from State Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, who’s running in a hotly contested race for lieutenant governor. “She waited until after her November election to decree that the City of Houston will recognize same-sex marriages from other states. The Texas State Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman and Mayor Parker cannot change that.”
Another prominent local Republican pointed out the mayor took her vows only after winning re-election to her final term in office.
“I think it’s all about her political agenda,” said Jared Woodfill, the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party. “She waited until after the election to do this for a reason, because she realized had she done it before the election and subjected herself to the will of the voters, she might not have been successful.”
After placing nothing controversial on the city council agenda for months before the election, Parker has undertaken a series of high-profile initiatives like passing restrictions on the payday lending industry. Woodfill said the timing has been no coincidence.
“First and foremost, she issues her unlawful same sex benefits to couples married in other states,” Woodfill said. “Then she goes to California, a state that recognizes same sex marriage, and gets married there. Then she gives her city attorney a 43-percent pay raise.”
Political analysts agree that Parker’s re-election has freed her to pursue political goals that otherwise might have undermined her final campaign.
“There’s another story here,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst. “If the mayor does have ambitions for higher elective office, it will certainly have to be in a partisan office, a partisan election. And she’s a Democrat, a very liberal, very progressive Democrat.”
The prospect of voting for a married gay politician, Stein said, might carry some added appeal for Democratic voters across Texas.