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HOUSTON For the first time, a Houston mayor publicly acknowledged gay marriage supporters during their annual Valentine s Day march.

Protestors asked the Harris County Clerk for marriage licenses around noon Tuesday. Once they were denied, they marched about a mile through downtown to City Hall.

It s very frustrating, said Richard McLeod, a gay marriage supporter. The Constitution gives us the right to pursue happiness. Why can t we be married?

His partner, Nicholas Benjamin, agreed.

To me, love is love, Benjamin said. No matter if you re gay, bi, straight, it s the same.

In a symbolic gesture, Mayor Annise Parker proclaimed this Valentine s Day Freedom to Marry Day in the Bayou City. She had sent the protestors a letter offering her support last year, but this was the first time she greeted them on the steps of City Hall.

It is not my responsibility as Mayor of Houston to try to change legislation that doesn t directly affect the city of Houston, Parker told reporters after issuing the proclamation. But I m still a human being and this is an issue that touches me.

Parker is leading a group of about 80 mayors around the country who are pushing for gay rights. She stressed that it was the other mayors who urged her to take up the cause and she was simply honored to oblige.

This is an issue that needs to be addressed at the federal level and we re calling on the appropriate people to take action, she said.

Not surprisingly, that position is drawing fire from some of her critics.

Same-sex marriage is a mistake and a society that s in favor of same-sex marriage will ultimately destroy traditional marriage and traditional family values, said Dave Wilson, one of the mayor s most outspoken critics. They re not asking for equal rights. They re asking for special rights.

He s vowing to fight an initiative by gay rights activists that would put local anti-discrimination laws on the ballot in November. The referendum could include a proposal that would give health benefits to same-sex partners of city employees.

Parker said that she had been briefed on that initiative. But she added that while she supported marriage equality in general, she d have to see more details about the proposal before she threw her support behind it.

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