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84th TX Lege

Nondiscrimination Ordinance Battle Goes Statewide

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As fights brew in several Texas cities over nondiscrimination ordinances protecting gay people, state lawmakers are poised to dive into the fray.

Since 2013, San Antonio, Houston and Plano have passed ordinances that offer lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people certain protections against discrimination in employment, housing and public places like restaurants. In Houston and Plano, opponents of the ordinances are seeking to repeal them. Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth have had such ordinances for more than a decade.

Now, some Republican lawmakers — including state Rep. Jeff Leach of Plano and state Sen. Donna Campbell of New Braunfels — say they plan to take aim at the city ordinances. Among those who have opposed such ordinances are Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who, when he was the state attorney general, said the San Antonio ordinance would stifle speech and repress religious freedom.

Campbell is “concerned about the hostility that we are seeing towards Texans of faith, especially in regards to some of these local city ordinances,” said Jon Oliver, a spokesman for the senator.

This comes as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to consider whether same-sex marriage should be legal and a federal appeals court weighs whether to strike down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage. And it foreshadows the next landmark gay rights issue the high court might address, said Texas A&M University law professor Meg Penrose: the balance between religious liberties and gay rights.

“You’re talking about competing individual freedoms,” Penrose said. “The religious liberty issue really is the next big question. It’s very hard to predict.”

Advocates for gay rights say the ordinances are needed to ensure the safety in public spaces of all Texans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. And they say efforts to target the ordinances are a backlash against recent same-sex marriage victories in federal courts across the country.

“The more advances we make on behalf of equality for the LGBT community, the more threatened our opponents become — and this is the way they lash out,” said Equality Texas Foundation President Steve Rudner. “The people on the other side are losing, they know they’re losing, and it’s freaking them out. And their response is to lash back in ways that are clearly illogical.”

A proposal filed by Campbell calls for asking voters to amend the state constitution to say that “government may not burden an individual’s or religious organization’s freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief.”

Campbell filed similar legislation last session; it did not gain traction. An aide to Leach said Friday that the representative is working on a proposal related to the ordinances that seeks to protect religious liberties.

“After hearing from concerned citizens, business owners and community leaders from all across Texas, I look forward to leading the charge, in conjunction with my colleagues in the Texas House and Senate, to craft legislation that aims to protect religious liberty and the fundamental Constitutional rights of Texans,” Leach said in a statement.

Before Plano passed its nondiscrimination ordinance in December, Leach was one of several Republican lawmakers who signed a letter opposing it. He was joined by Rep. Pat Fallon, R-Frisco; Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Parker; and Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano.

State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has filed a proposed constitutional amendment similar to Campbell’s, but he said he is not targeting city ordinances; rather, he’s seeking to ensure the right of a county courthouse to display a Nativity scene or a high school valedictorian to speak about God.

“Our legislation was in no way intended to limit the ability of municipalities or cities to implement this type of ordinances that they believe might be beneficial to their community,” Villalba said. He declined to say whether he supported the nondiscrimination ordinances.

Daniel Williams, a legislative specialist with Equality Texas, said Texas already has protections for religious liberties. He pointed to the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed in 1999.

“We have strong religious liberties protections in this state that work well,” Williams said. Legislation like that filed by Campbell and Villalba “isn’t about the protection of religious liberties, it’s about overturning good law that we’ve had for a decade and a half and replacing it with a broad exemption.”

Opponents of ordinances in Houston and Plano say they have gathered enough signatures to force voter referendums on the matter. Houston denied the opponents’ petition, saying too many of the signatures were invalid, and the city is now embroiled in a lawsuit with the opponents. Plano city officials received the signatures and are still in the process of verifying them, a city spokesman said Friday.

“The ordinances create a category of protected characteristics that is simply indefensible legally. It addresses a problem that doesn’t exist and creates a criminal class for people who believe in the traditional Judeo-Christian viewpoint of marriage, family and gender,” said Pastor Dave Welch, a leader of the Texas Pastors Council and one of the opponents of the ordinances. “We can’t just sit back and let that freedom be taken away without opposition.”

Before Houston’s City Council passed its ordinance last year, more than 200 people testified — including a mother of a transgender daughter who said that when LGBT youth grow up, “there is nobody there to protect them from the bullying.”

Rudner said the ordinances protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination — a protection not offered by federal or state law. According to a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center, about 21 percent of LGBT adults faced discrimination in the workforce.

“We have nondiscrimination ordinances in place, and nothing bad has happened to anyone. It hasn’t interrupted anyone’s life, it hasn’t intruded on anyone’s liberty,” Rudner said. “The cities are frustrated by the failure of our state Legislature to adopt a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance.”

These ordinances aren’t new to Texas. In 2000, Fort Worth became the first major Texas city to update its nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual identity. Then-Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said he couldn’t remember facing the kind of opposition council members in Houston and Plano have faced.

“Frankly, I don’t remember any specifics of the debate about it,” Barr said this week. “That speaks to the fact that we passed it without a whole lot of fanfare.”

Disclosure: Texas A&M University is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/01/24/equal-rights-ordinance-battle-goes-statewide/.

Photo: Jason Pier

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84th TX Lege

Texas vs. Supreme Court

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A Texas bill to defy the Supreme Court‘s ruling on marriage died in the house last week but anti-gay politicians could find a sneaky way to revive it. Meanwhile the Attorney General of Texas refused to say if he will obey the Supreme Court’s ruling in June.

For the American Foundation for Equal Rights, I’m Matt Baume, and welcome to Marriage News Watch for May 18, 2015.

Legislators in Texas nearly passed a bill that will force the state to defy the Supreme Court last week but the deadline passed before they could hold a vote which means the bills off the table … for now. If it passed it would have withheld funding from government offices that obeyed a pro-equality ruling from the Supreme Court. That could never have withstood a lawsuit.

States simply don’t get to decide which Supreme Court rulings they want to follow. What’s scary is that an obviously unconstitutional bill even made it this far and may still come back. Bill sponsor Cecil Bell says that he might find a way to attach it to some other bill that’s still life so we’re not out of the woods yet.

And there’s another dangerous bill that did pass but it’s getting less attention. That’s SB 2065 which contains a hidden “Trojan horse” for discrimination. Supporters claim that the bill lets members of the clergy refused to conduct marriages that violate their conscience but if that were true there would be no need for the bill. Religious officials already have the freedom to refuse certain marriages.

What the bill actually does is extend that exemption to public officials with certain religious affiliations. So for example if the city hired a minister as Justice of the Peace then even though he’s serving in a government role he’d still be allowed to let his religious rules override the rules at his job. Couples could be turned away from government offices with no recourse.

The bill passed the Senate last week but missed its chance for a vote in the House but like the other bill it could always come back as an amendment. There are nearly two dozen anti-gay bills working their way through the Texas Legislature. Many like Cecil Bell attempt to defy the Supreme Court are clearly illegal, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton says he’ll defend them any way. What’s more, Paxton refused to say whether he would obey Supreme Court orders to allow marriage equality in the state that could be setting up a showdown between the Supreme Court’s orders and the State of Texas’ refusal and it’s hard to say who would win.

Just kidding, the Supreme Court would win … eventually, but the last time there was a showdown like this it took some unpleasant work to sort it all out out.

Those are the headlines. Subscribe here on YouTube to stay up to date on all these marriage stories. For the American Foundation for Equal Rights and Matt Baume, thanks for watching and we’ll see you next week.

Source: YouTube: Texas vs. Supreme Court: May 18 MNW

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84th TX Lege

House Republicans Reaffirm Support of Gay Marriage Ban

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*Editor’s note: This story has been updated throughout.  

House Republicans want Texans to know they still oppose same-sex marriage – even if foot-dragging Democrats thwarted a debate on the polarizing subject Thursday night.

The House Republican Caucus on Friday released a letter reaffirming its support of the state’s long-standing ban on gay marriage, calling marriage between a man and woman a “principle that is so dearly held by Texans far and wide.”

“This letter provides legislative support and a legal foundation for the Texas constitutional provision,” Kelly Carnal, executive director of the caucus, said in a statement.

[pdf-embedder url=”http://www.therepubliq.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/05.15.15_House_Republican_Letter.pdf”]
The letter was signed by 93 of the 98 House Republicans. Those who did not sign were: Sarah Davis of West University Place, Jason Villalba of Dallas, Matt Schaefer of Tyler, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock and Speaker Joe Straus.

As speaker, Straus doesn’t typically sign any such letters. Schaefer declined to sign the letter out of disappointment and frustration after the House failed to move a proposal aiming to protect the state’s marriage laws.

“I wanted action, not just words in the journal,” he said. “We need a loud clear message to ring in the ears of the Supreme Court that people believe in marriage, as God instituted it, around the country. But unfortunately, the headline will be, the Texas House failed to act.”

At midnight on Friday – the deadline for passing bills originating in the House – time ran out on House Bill 4105, which would have forbidden state or local governments from using public funds to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Rep. Cecil Bell’s legislation was meant to pre-empt a potential U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling paving the way for same-sex marriage nationwide.

Gay rights groups and legal scholars have criticized the bill as unconstitutional and outlandish.

Enough Republicans had signed on as co-sponsors to guarantee the bill’s passage had it reached the floor, and Democrats spent Thursday prolonging debate in an attempt to run down the clock and prevent Bell’s legislation from being heard — a practice called “chubbing.” They were ultimately successful.

But Schaefer said Republicans shared responsibility for the bill’s demise, because they placed it too low on the calendar.

“It should have been a priority and it wasn’t,” he said. “If issues we care about as conservatives are not heard in a chamber dominated by Republicans, you have nothing but Republicans to blame.”

Bell said he might not be done pushing his proposal this session, because he could still attach language as an amendment to a related Senate bill.

Bobby Blanchard and Eva Hershaw contributed to this report.

[gdlr_icon type=”icon-camera-retro” size=”16px” color=”#999999″]During the Defense of Texas Marriage Amendment Rally on Mar. 23, 2015 at the Texas Capitol, a protester raises questions of marriage sanctity noting celebrities who’ve been married multiple times. / 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/2015/05/15/house-republicans-we-still-oppose-gay-marriage/[/gdlr_notification]

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84th TX Lege

In Gay Marriage Battle, the Clock Beats Cecil Bell

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When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, ruling it unconstitutional to deny federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, found himself agreeing with Justice Anthony Kennedy‘s majority opinion.

Some might find that surprising, considering that the sophomore lawmaker from southeast Texas is leading the fight against allowing gay marriage in the Texas. But while many take from Kennedy’s opinion a strong indication that the high court will rule in favor of same-sex marriage again this summer, Bell — who loves to read the wonk-beloved judicial news site SCOTUSBlog — interprets it a little differently.

Instead of sanctioning gay marriage, Bell believes, Kennedy’s ruling was primarily an affirmation of states’ rights to regulate marriage. If he’s correct, the court’s forthcoming decision on gay marriage may not be as earthshaking as some believe, leaving it to states to decide what to allow within their borders.

“I think Justice Kennedy was very clear — it was his basis in fact for striking down DOMA — it was the fact that marriage wasn’t a federal purview,” Bell said. “Justice Kennedy said in Windsor that it is the sovereign power of the separate states and the people to define and regulate marriage.”

Asserting states’ sovereign rights has been the main drive behind Bell’s arguments this session as he has fought same-sex marriage.

Bills he has authored this session would do everything from taking the ability to issue marriage licenses away from county clerks to stripping salaries from local or state employees who issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Bell’s strongest bid fell short Thursday night when House Bill 4105, a bill that would have forbidden state or local governments from using public funds to issue same-sex marriage licenses, failed to pass the House before midnight — the deadline for House bills.

Enough Republicans had signed on as co-sponsors to guarantee the bill’s passage had it reached the floor, and Democrats spent Thursday prolonging debate in an attempt to run down the clock and prevent Bell’s legislation from being heard — a practice called “chubbing.” They were ultimately successful.

While the bill is now dead, Bell is not out of moves. He could still attempt to attach an amendment to a related Senate bill.

“From my perspective, no bill is dead as long as there are are other bills in front. You just have to find something that’s germane,” Bell said after passage of the House deadline spawned hope among opponents that the measure is done with for this session. “The session still moves on.”

Throughout the session, gay rights groups and legal scholars have criticized Bell’s bills as unconstitutional and outlandish.

“This end-run play to subvert a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, to which the state of Texas would be constitutionally bound, makes Texas a laughingstock and flies in the face of Texas values,” said Terri Burke, executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Chuck Smith, director of gay rights group Equality Texas, said the group has worked with other lawmakers in attempts to soften the legislation, but views lobbying Bell as a lost cause.

“We have not proactively tried to change Rep. Bell’s mind — I think he has been quite clear on where he’s coming from,” Smith said.

In an interview Thursday morning before the House convened, Bell said he believed his legislation was not a partisan issue — but he acknowledged the criticism aimed at it.

“When it first came out in the news, I think people wanted to see this bill as targeting a subset of our population — and I think that’s where a lot of the animosity towards the bill comes from,” Bell said.

Before joining the House, Bell served as school board president in Magnolia, a town of about 1,500 in southeast Montgomery County. He tells people he is a sixth-generation Texan, and that his family roots in America date back to 1751. Bell is proud of his Texas roots — he is known around the Capitol for his ever-present cowboy hats.

“Hats have a reason, they’re not just there for decoration,” Bell said. “I didn’t start wearing a hat when I decided to run for political office — if you go back and look at the earliest pictures of me, I wore one not because someone put it on my head but because I wanted it.”

Bell’s mother served as a councilwoman and mayor of Oakwood, where Bell graduated as high school valedictorian. He has been self-employed since 1983 at a water and wastewater treatment facilities construction company. Today, he is the CEO of several other companies.

During his first session, Bell focused on legislation relating to dual credit classes in high school, reducing requirements for concealed handgun licenses and providing liability protection to volunteers who assist during disasters. In his second session, legislation related to gay marriage makes up a sizable portion of his legislative portfolio — though he has filed bills on local issues.

Bell said the issue is important to him not just because of religious reasons, but to assert the sovereign rights of Texas.

“My own beliefs are my own beliefs, and I am certainly willing to assert them,” Bell said. “But I recognize that we don’t live in a theocracy. So what we’re talking about here is the sovereign rights of the states.”

He is not moved by polls showing growing support for gay marriage. According to an October 2014 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, 42 percent of Texans polled were in favor of gay marriage. Forty-seven percent were against.

“If you want a more precise indication of where people are, look at another set of polls — those are the results of our elections in Texas,” Bell said. “It is one thing to say what the polls say. It’s another thing to look at people’s conduct.”

Bell also argues that federal court rulings account for the majority of states where same-sex marriage is now legal.

In four same-sex marriage cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court — from Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky — the court is expected to address whether the states must allow same-sex marriages, and if they must recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.

Texas’ same-sex marriage ban was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2014, but remains in effect while the case is before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Though Bell disagrees, many expect the Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage this summer, which will likely have ramifications for any state with a gay marriage ban. Before the House convened on Thursday, Bell would not say what he thinks would happen if both the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage and his bill became law.

“That’s for itself to play out,” Bell said.

But when discussing his philosophy toward legislating, Bell said he believed in being proactive — not reactive.

“If we don’t deal with the big issues, we will be left with whatever emerges from those issues,” Bell said. “And I don’t believe in being constantly reactive. I believe in being proactive.”

[gdlr_icon type=”icon-camera-retro” size=”16px” color=”#999999″]State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia, on the House floor on May 7, 2015. / photo credit: Todd Wiseman

[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/2015/05/15/gay-marriage-fight-rep-bell-makes-proactive-strike/[/gdlr_notification]

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