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Benefits Should Follow Same-Sex Marriages

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Public employers including Texas agencies, universities and schools may now be required to extend benefits to spouses of married gay employees in light of the U.S. Supreme Court‘s ruling Friday that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. 
 
But when those benefits will be extended is unclear as state officials examine the high court’s ruling and consider new policies. 

“At this point, all I can say is we’re aware of the ruling and we’re examining it,” said Catherine Terrell, director of governmental affairs for the state Employees Retirement System, which oversees retirement and health benefits for state employees and those of most public universities and community colleges. 

A spokeswoman for the Teachers Retirement System of Texas, which serves public education employees, echoed that sentiment, saying it was also “analyzing” the ruling’s impact on the programs it administers. 

The ruling is likely to have little impact on state employees’ retirement benefits, because employees can already assign any person as a beneficiary, Terrell said. But “the major benefit issue” could be with employees’ health insurance plans. 

Before the Supreme Court ruling, state law did not allow a same-sex spouse to be included as an “eligible dependent” on health insurance plans subsidized by the state. (Texas pays 50 percent of the health insurance premiums for state employees.)  
 
Extending health benefits to same-sex couples could be dependent on the interpretation of “spouse.” 

The Texas Constitution does not explicitly define “spouse,” but indicates that marriages between same-sex couples are not permissible and should not be recognized. But the Supreme Court ruled that states could not bar same-sex couples from marrying, and must recognize marriages between two people of the same sex. 

Asked whether the state must interpret the meaning of “spouse” to include same-sex couples, the Texas Department of Insurance deferred to the Texas attorney general’s office, which did not respond to a request for comment. 

The two major university systems, the University of Texas System and the Texas A&M System, were also unclear about whether they would extend benefits to same-sex couples. The two systems are the only public university systems not covered by the Employees Retirement System. 

“We recognize the great interest in this ruling and are giving it our highest priority,” said UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler. “The UT System Office of General Counsel is carefully evaluating the opinion, taking into account all applicable state and federal laws, and will issue guidance to UT institutions as quickly as possible.” 

Later in the day, UT-Austin president Greg Fenves tweeted that details on benefits would be available next week. 

Representatives with the Texas A&M System did not respond to a request for comment on extending same-sex benefits. 

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott unintentionally weighed in on the matter on Friday. Early in the day, Abbott sent a memo to the heads of state agencies directing them to “preserve, protect, and defend the religious liberty of every Texan.” 

The governor’s directive indicated that his order “applies to any agency decision,” including granting or denying benefits. In a clarifying statement, the governor’s office said the state would not “authorize or order state agencies” to deny benefits to same-sex couples. 

Legal experts agreed that when it comes to extending benefits for same-sex couples, the state is now bound by the Supreme Court ruling to recognize all marriages. 

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston, said the state has no legal basis to exclude same-sex couples from the benefits it offers married couples. 

“If you’re legally married by the law, no agency or government can restrict you,” Rottinghaus said. “Exactly how this is applied in Texas is going to be a bit shaky.” 

But he added that extending benefits to same-sex couples is inevitable. “It’s not a question of when, but how,” Rottinghaus said. 

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston are corporate sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here
 
[gdlr_icon type=”icon-camera-retro” size=”16px” color=”#999999″]A couple arranges a marriage license at the Travis County Clerk’s office on June 26, 2015. / photo credit: Bob Daemmrich

[gdlr_notification icon=”icon-external-link” type=”color-background” background=”#ffcc20″ color=”#ffffff”]This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/06/26/future-benefits-same-sex-couples-unclear/[/gdlr_notification]

Alexa Ura covers demographics, voting rights and politics for The Texas Tribune, with a focus on the state's growing Hispanic population. She previously covered health care for the Tribune, where she started as in intern. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2013 with a journalism degree.

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Austin

Austin PRIDE Announces Date for 2019 Festival & Parade

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The Austin Gay and Lesbian Pride Foundation, the non-profit organization that manages and organizes Austin’s PRIDE celebration, has announced that the 29th annual Austin PRIDE Festival and Parade will take place on SATURDAY, AUGUST 10, 2019. This year’s theme is Boogie Wonderland.

The 2015 Austin Pride Festival at Fiesta Gardens. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The festival will return to Edward Rendon Sr. Park at Festival Beach in Town Lake Metropolitan Park (a/k/a Fiesta Gardens) from 11 AM – 6 PM and feature entertainment, games and activities, drinks, food, family zone, and 140+ booths featuring local non-profits organizations and businesses. Tickets on the day of the event will be $20 for adults (18+), $10 for youth (7-17 years old), and FREE for children six and under. Discounted advanced tickets will go on sale in the near future at www.austinpride.org.

The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade
The Apple contingent in the 2015 Austin Pride Parade. Photo credit: Chase Martin/therepubliq

The parade will step off at 8 PM. The route through downtown Austin remains unchanged from previous years; starting at the south gate of the Texas State Capitol Building, heading down Congress Avenue, then turning on 4th Street going through the Warehouse District before ending at Republic Square. The parade is free and open to the public.

The parade and festival are projected to bring in over 400,000 attendees, making it the largest single day event based on attendance in Austin. By comparison, the Austin City Limits Music Festival has 75,000 attendees and South by Southwest has 285,000 attendees.

Registration for booths at the festival and spaces in the parade is now open online at www.austinpride.org/paradeandfestival.

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86th TX Lege

Dan Patrick Dismisses Need for Bathroom Bill in 2019: “It’s been settled and I think we won”

In 2017, Patrick pushed for the controversial measure that would have restricted the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans, but it failed to become law.

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Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, left, sits next to Gov. Greg Abbott as he speaks during a press conference at the Governor's Mansion on Wednesday. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / Texas Tribune.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

The “bathroom bill” won’t be back this session, its loudest champion suggested Wednesday morning.

At a Governor’s Mansion press conference on the second day of this year’s legislative session, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick — who last session was the top state leader championing the measure, which would have regulated the use of certain public facilities for transgender Texans — suggested there’s no need to bring back the divisive proposal that headlined the last legislative year in 2017, but failed to reach the governor’s desk. 

“When you win the battle, you don’t have to fight the battle again,” Patrick said, sitting beside Gov. Greg Abbott and recently elected Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton. “I think it’s been settled, and I think we’ve won.” 

Without citing evidence, Patrick claimed that the school district behavior necessitating the measure has “stopped.” 

“Sometimes a bill doesn’t pass, but you win on the issue,” Patrick said.

The bathroom bill fight kicked off in the wake of an Obama-era policy guideline that directed public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that aligned with their gender identity. One version of Texas’ “bathroom bill” measure would have required that individuals, including transgender men and women, use the facilities with the gender identity on their birth certificates. Other, similar proposals would have prevented local governments and school districts from enacting or enforcing nondiscrimination ordinances allowing transgender individuals to use the facilities that align with their gender identity.

In the months since the 2017 legislative sessions, Patrick has made similar suggestions that the issue no longer requires the Legislature’s attention. But his answer carried extra weight Wednesday as he and the state’s other top two leaders projected a unified front, promising to tackle bread-and-butter policy reforms like school finance, property tax reform and disaster recovery. Any lawmaker can file a bill, but if the measure doesn’t have support from the state’s top leaders, it’s unlikely to make it very far.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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86th TX Lege

#TXLege86 LGBTQ+ Watch

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The dome from the inside of the Texas State Capitol building
The dome from the inside of the Texas State Capitol building

The 86th Texas Legislature opens this week and, so far, no bathroom bills, but what we do have are several LGBTQ-related bills, all by Democratic lawmakers.

State Senators José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) filed a bill to revise statutes that referred to “homosexual conduct” as an unacceptable lifestyle and a “criminal offense.”

State Senator José R. Rodríguez and fellow Democrat from El Paso
State Representative Joe Moody, have filed bills to repeal Texas’ anti-sodomy law that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 with Lawrence v. Texas, yet still remains on the books.

Whils Senators José R. Rodríguez, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) are calling for “a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.”

Representatives Jes­sica Far­rar (D-Houston) and Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) along with Senators José R. Rodríguez, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) and John Whitmire (D-Houston) are all sponsoring bills that would prohibit “certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression” in housing, employment and public accommodations “providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.”

Representative Celia Israel (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would ban “conversion therapy” on children and allow state agencies with regulatory authority over certain mental health providers to take disciplinary action against providers who practice conversion therapy on Texans under 18 years of age

State Senator José R. Rodríguez has filed a bill through would streamline the name and gender change process which will benefit the transgender community.

Representative Donna Howard (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would add condoms to the state’s list of items that are tax-exempt.

History made today in Texas as five LGBTQ representatives are sworn in. Congratulations to (left to right) Rep. Celia…

Posted by Equality Texas on Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Three new out LGBTQ lawmakers in the Capitol join Celia Israel and Mary González (D-Clint) after their wins in the mid-term elections: Reps. Jessica González (D-Dallas), Julie Johnson (D-Irving) and Erin Zwiener (D-Dripping Springs).

HOUSE BILLS

HB 84
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Joseph “Joe” Moody (D-El Paso) – District 78
Relating to the repeal of the offense of homosexual conduct.

HB 188
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) – District 123
Relating to the prohibition of housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression and to the enforcement of that prohibition.

HB 244
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) – District 148
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

HB 254
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) – District 123
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

HB 315
Status: Filed – 11/13/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) – District 48
Relating to a sales and use tax exemption for condoms.

HB 517
Status: Filed – 12/12/2018
Sponsor: Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) – District 50
Relating to unprofessional conduct by mental health providers who attempt to change the sexual orientation of a child; providing penalties.

HB 595
Status: Filed – 12/27/2018
Sponsor: Rep. John “Jon” E. Rosenthal (D-Houston) – District 135
Relating to making certain false alarms or reports because of bias or prejudice; increasing a criminal penalty “against a group identified by race, color, disability, religion, national origin or ancestry, age, gender, or sexual preference or by status as a peace officer or judge.”

SENATE BILLS

SB 114
Status: Filed
Sponsor: Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) – District 26
Relating to the repeal of statutes regarding the criminality or unacceptability of homosexual conduct and to the recognition of certain same-sex relationship statuses.

SB 151
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) – District 20
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Relating to the prohibition of certain discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression; providing an administrative penalty; creating a criminal offense.

SB 152
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Relating to the repeal of the criminal offense of homosexual conduct.

SB 153
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Relating to certain statutory changes to reflect and address same-sex marriages and parenting relationships and to the removal of provisions regarding the criminality or unacceptability of homosexual conduct.

SB 154
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Relating to a change of name and sex for certain persons and the issuance of associated vital records and documentation; authorizing a fee.

SJR 9
Status: Filed – 11/12/2018
Co-sponsor: Sen. José R. Rodríguez (D-El Paso) – District 29
Co-sponsor: Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) – District 20
Co-sponsor: Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) – District 15
Proposing a constitutional amendment to repeal the constitutional provision providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

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