Gay Alabama Lawmaker Responds To Controversial Passing Of Anti-Gay Resolution

Patricia Todd listens to discussion during a Democratic Party committee hearing, Thursday Aug. 24, 2006 in Montgomery, Ala. T
Patricia Todd listens to discussion during a Democratic Party committee hearing, Thursday Aug. 24, 2006 in Montgomery, Ala. Todd, an openly gay candidate, defeated Gaynell Hendricks by 59 votes in the July 18 runoff election in House District 54 in Birmingham. The committee voted 5-0 to disqualify both Todd and Hendricks. The Alabama Democratic Executive Committee is expected to review a challenge on the committee's ruling on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

By the end of the day on Wednesday, the second-to-last day of the legislative session in Alabama, state Rep. Patricia Todd -- Alabama's only openly gay lawmaker -- was feeling unexpectedly hopeful about the prospects for gays and lesbians in her conservative part of the country. But the day hadn't started out so well.

On Wednesday, state Republicans introduced a resolution calling on the United States Congress to pass a constitutional convention to ban same-sex marriage. Members of both parties voted on the measure, some without realizing what they were doing. Todd, a Democrat, was one of the legislators who voted for the measure. The description of the resolution on the agenda didn't contain any detail about what the resolution actually entailed, she said, adding that it's not uncommon for people to vote for resolutions without careful consideration.

It wasn't until Todd checked her Twitter feed that she learned what she had done. "I go to some of my peers on the floor and ask, 'Do you all know what we passed in this resolution?' Nobody knew."

Todd felt compelled to say something to her colleagues. "I know that I am the only and first openly gay person in this chamber, and I feel that I have been completely disrespected, that something was slipped by us on purpose," she said on the floor of the Statehouse, according to a report in the The Birmingham News.

"Most people were shocked," Todd told The Huffington Post. Colleagues on both sides of the aisle apologized, she said, and told her they never would have voted for the resolution if they'd understood what was in it.

By Thursday, Todd was again feeling optimistic about the possibility that change may soon be coming, even to a conservative state like hers.

"We are moving the needle a little bit," she said. "Just that fact that something happened yesterday and people felt very bad about it, that's progress."

Alabama already has a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Wednesday's resolution, sponsored by Rep. Richard J. Laird, calls marriage "a sacred covenant, solemnized between a man and a woman" and urges the U.S. Congress to pass a federal amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying.

Although political observers say there's no way such an amendment would pass in the current Congress, that hasn't stopped conservative Alabama officials from pressing their case. Earlier this year, Roy Moore, the chief justice of Alabama's state supreme court, sent letters to every governor in the country encouraging them to call for a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Still, Todd didn't think that this latest resolution would reach a vote, much less pass. In an interview with HuffPost last week, Todd said she thought her presence in the legislature had changed how some of her fellow lawmakers felt about gay rights. For example, the Republican House Speaker Mike Hubbard recently promised her that he would kill Wednesday's resolution before it came to a vote, "because I was his friend and he did not want to embarrass me," Todd said.

Rep. Laird did not immediately return request for comment. A spokesperson for Speaker Hubbard declined to give an interview.

After Todd realized that she and her colleagues had indeed voted for the resolution, she took a brisk walk around the Statehouse, trying to calm herself down. She went to dinner by herself and called her wife. By Thursday morning, she was ready to focus on other matters, including a bill that seeks to regulate the payday lending industry.

On Thursday, moments before the last day of the session began, Todd used a curt phrase to sum up the experience of being an openly gay lawmaker in Alabama.

"Shit happens," she said. "You have to find a way to deal with it both personally and professionally, and my main focus is always, 'How can I use this opportunity to again open the hearts and minds of new people?'"

Todd has had many opportunities to do that during her first eight years in office. Earlier this session, a fellow Democrat proposed a measure that would have allowed schools to fire teachers who "taught homosexuality." ("I was like, 'Well, who the hell teaches that anyway?'" Todd said.)

"Everyone in the body was focused on me, like, 'Oh, my God, what's she going to do,'" Todd recalled.

She stood up on the Statehouse floor and addressed her colleagues. "I said pretty much the same thing [as on Wednesday]: that it's shameful to me that people use marginalized communities as political pawns."

The amendment failed, Todd said. "I can tell you, you could hear a pin drop when I spoke, and I got a standing ovation after that one."