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84th TX Lege

Anti-Gay Marriage Bill Scrutinized in Committee

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Emotional pleas beseeching lawmakers to oppose efforts to keep the state from recognizing same-sex marriage even if the courts legalize it dominated the tail end of a House State Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday.

“I got to my church and I hear love and inclusion. I come to my Capitol and I hear hate and exclusion,” Richard Francis, who has a gay son, told the committee. “I can feel that difference … and that bothers me about my government.”

The committee considered a bill that would give the secretary of state, and not county clerks, sole control over marriage licenses in Texas, and prohibit issuing licenses to same-sex couples even if courts overturn the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the constitutionality of gay marriage in coming months.

Though some Democrats on the committee clearly opposed the bill, the most pronounced concern from committee members focused on how much money the bill would cost the state and counties.

The measure, House Bill 1745, was filed by state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia after a lesbian couple from Austin obtained a marriage license in February. At a judge’s direction, the Travis County clerk issued a license to Sarah Goodfriend and Suzanne Bryant, who have been together for 30 years.

“This would have been unable to happen under this bill because the policies would have been uniform,” Bell told the committee. State Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, has filed a companion bill in the Senate.

Supporters of the bill testified that it was needed to protect the “status quo” in Texas and defend the state’s constitutional amendment passed a decade ago defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

The state’s same-sex marriage ban is currently in federal court and said to be on precarious legal ground after a January hearing during which the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals signaled significant doubt about its constitutionality. The appeals court is expected to rule in the coming months, but the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to have the final word on the issue. It’s set to hear four gay marriage cases from other states next month.

During the committee hearing, state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, questioned the bill’s effect on government employees if the nation’s highest court does legalize same-sex marriage.

“Am I hearing you all to say that the state of Texas, county employees and others be given the right to disregard the United States Supreme Court ruling?” Turner said.

Some of the greatest concerns about the bill, however, involved not constitutional rights but simple economics.

Teresa Kiel, Guadalupe County clerk, said she was worried about how counties would fare without the revenue county clerks collect from issuing marriage licenses.

“The fiscal impact of that would be devastating to counties who are already struggling to balance their budgets” and rely on revenue from county clerk’s offices, Kiel said. She added that the negative fiscal impact could be as low was $11,000 for small counties and up to $1.3 million for larger counties like Dallas County.

Under Bell’s measure, the secretary of state would be the sole issuer of marriage licenses and could contract out to county clerk’s office. State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, expressed some anxiety about leaving this up to the secretary of state’s office.

Members of the committee were also wary about the bill’s cost to the state — an estimated $1.4 million in fiscal year 2016 and $1 million every year thereafter. The bill’s pricey fiscal note, prepared by the Legislative Budget Board, includes salaries for 18 full-time employees who would be required to issue marriage licenses.

Texas counties issued 185,510 marriage license applications and declarations of informal marriage in 2013.

No vote on the bill was taken, and Bell told the committee he intended to present a revised version that will address the fiscal impact. Geren said he would also like Bell to address the local impact on individual counties.

“The fiscal note says there’s no local impact. My [county clerk] disagrees with that, and I think the testimony here shows several clerks disagree with that,” Geren told Bell. “I think there is a local impact in the millions of dollars, and I don’t know how we address that, but I hope that you will in the substitute that you’re working on.

Turner seemed less interested in considering Bell’s bill substitute, saying the measure would create “chaos and confusion.” When Bell reiterated he would present a bill substitute, Turner responded, “I don’t care how much lipstick you put on it.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/03/25/anti-gay-marriage-bill-met-concerns-committee/.

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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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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