Houston voters made history Saturday with their selection of Annise Parker, an openly lesbian candidate, to serve as the city's 61st mayor.

“This election has changed the world for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities, just as this election is about transforming Houstonians' lives for the better,” Parker said in a statement released shortly after her victory.

Houston becomes the largest city in the nation to endorse an openly gay mayor. With a half-million residents, Portland, Oregon previously held the title, electing openly gay Mayor Sam Adams last year. Houston, however, only trails behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Parker, 53, won Saturday's contest after seizing 53.6 percent of the vote to best her opponent, Gene Locke, an African-American lawyer and former city attorney. The mayoral runoff pitted the two top vote-getters from a November election.

In its final lap, the contest became heated with anti-gay rhetoric and accusations of election fraud.

Parker's candidacy was opposed by a group of conservative ministers. The group of mostly black clergy lead by Dave Welch, executive director of Houston Area Pastor Council, said they were alarmed by the possibility of a “gay takeover” of City Hall, which could lead to the reversal of a gay partner benefits ban. Welch said a Parker win would lead to promotion of “an agenda which we believe to be contrary to the concerns of the community and destructive to the family.”

A mailer produced and bankrolled by Dave Wilson, a 62-year-old sign company owner, also stirred up homophobia in an effort to derail Parker. A flier featuring Parker being sworn into office as city controller while her partner of 20 years, Kathy Hubbard, looks on with the caption, “Is this the image Houston wants to portray?” was sent out to 35,000 households in November. Wilson has said Parker should not be mayor because “homosexual behavior leads to extinction.”

And accusations of violations of Texas election laws surfaced after a Texas Ethics Commission filing by the Conservative Republicans of Harris County (CRHC). The political action committee has been active since the 90's and is known for supporting anti-gay candidates and opposing gay rights.

The December 4 filing revealed that two Locke staffers had donated a total of $40,000 to CRHC a week before it produced a mailing that urged voters to reject Parker and several other candidates because they were “endorsed by a gay lesbian political action committee.” Parker supporters accused the Locke campaign of coordinating with CRHC, which is illegal in Texas. Locke has denied the claims.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a group that supports gay candidates across the nation, cheered the results, calling Parker's victory a “watershed moment in American politics.”

“Annise was elected by fair-minded people from across the city because of her experience and competence, and we're glad Houston soundly rejected the politics of division,” Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the group, said in a statement. “This victory sends a clear signal that gays and lesbians are an integral part of American civic life, that we're willing to lead, and that voters will respond to candidates who are open and honest about their lives.”

Throughout the campaign, Parker refused to directly respond to conservatives opposed to her candidacy based on her sexual orientation. Ignoring the attacks was clearly a strategy to keep Parker from becoming the “gay candidate,” but it might have also backfired in a state where conservative values remain strong, including opposition to gay rights.

Parker's win comes on the heels of another historic victory for the gay and lesbian community. On Thursday, the California Assembly's Democratic Caucus unanimously agreed to select Assemblyman John Perez, an openly gay Latino Democrat from Los Angeles, to become the state's next Assembly speaker. A formal election is expected in January, but united behind a single candidate, Democrats, who hold a large majority in the chamber, do not need GOP support.

Parker will take office in January.