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What SCOTUS’s Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision Means for Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. The outcome doesn’t have direct legal bearing on Texas — but it does have implications for religious refusal laws in the state.

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Jack Phillips decorates a cake in his Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado on September 21, 2017. Photo credit: REUTERS / Rick Wilking

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune

Last year, a dispute over a Colorado wedding cake made it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. This week, the reverberations of the high court’s ruling made it all the way to Texas. 

After the high court ruled Monday in favor of a Christian baker in Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, conservatives praised the ruling as a vindication of religious liberty and free speech. Meanwhile, LGBT advocates focused on language in the decision that suggests future cases could be decided differently. 

At the center of the case was the question of “religious refusals” — whether, and when, a “sincerely held religious belief” justifies denying certain people certain services or privileges. The baker, Jack Phillips, sought what LGBT advocates have characterized as a “constitutional right to discriminate,” saying that he should not be forced to “use the talents that I have to create an artistic expression that violates [my] faith.” 

In a 7-2 holding Monday, the high court declined to identify that right, ruling instead on narrower legal grounds specific to Phillips’ case. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said Phillips had been unfairly treated by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission at an earlier stage of the lawsuit. Other religious refusal cases, Kennedy wrote, “must await further elaboration in the courts.” 

The Supreme Court also held that “it is a general rule that [religious and philosophical objections] do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law.” Lawyers for the baker had argued that the baker’s work was protected as an expression of his art. 

This case doesn’t have direct bearing on similar statewide issues in Texas. But here are five Texas takeaways: 

Both sides are claiming some victories from the ruling. That includes several prominent Texas Republicans. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said the court “took a stand for religious liberty against the unconstitutional demands of an oppressive bureaucracy.” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said “this is a landmark victory for our first liberties of religious freedom and freedom of speech.” Both had led more than a dozen federal lawmakers and attorneys general, respectively, in friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of the baker. 

Still, experts and LGBT advocates pointed out that the court left open the larger question of religious refusals and held out hope that future cases on the issue would come out in their favor. 

“It’s a victory for equality that the court did not create this constitutional right to discriminate,” said Rebecca Robertson, chief program officer for Equality Texas. “Justice Kennedy said in no uncertain terms that the underlying question has yet to be resolved. And so I think we are going to see another case like this at the Supreme Court.” 

The legal basis for religious refusals is very different in Texas and Colorado. The Colorado couple sued the baker under the state’s public accommodation law, a statewide anti-discrimination statute. But Texas is one of just five states that has no such law — meaning a couple in a similar situation here would not have had a state law to protect them. 

But some Texas cities have anti-discrimination ordinances along the same lines. Cities like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have some explicit protections in place for LGBT residents — and those were broadly upheld in Monday’s ruling, experts said. 

“One implication of this decision is for the general validity of those acts,” said Lawrence Sager, a constitutional theorist at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. “The principle says that there is nothing approaching a general right of religious believers to disobey those municipal laws.” 

When it comes to those local ordinances, though, LGBT individuals’ “remedy is fairly limited,” Robertson said. Those local rules are important, she said, but do not carry the force that a state law would. 

LGBT advocates say this ruling spotlights the need for a statewide anti-discrimination law in Texas. The decision, advocates say, made it clear that public accommodation laws offer important protections — and made it clear that Texas needs to enact one. 

“Texas does not have — and should have — comprehensive statewide protections,” said Jennifer Pizer, a Lambda Legal attorney who worked on the organization’s friend-of-the-court brief. “This decision underscores why those laws are important and why the Texas Legislature should pass those laws.” 

Certain measures — like a bill by state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, that would have explicitly protected LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination — come up every session, but rarely gain much traction

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat challenging Cruz for his U.S. Senate seat this year, also said the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision makes clear the need for a federal anti-discrimination law that explicitly protects LGBT people. 

“I don’t think you can be too gay to buy a cake,” the congressman wrote on Twitter. “Let’s end this discrimination. Let’s pass the Equality Act. Let’s ensure equal justice under law for LGBTQ Americans.” 

Advocates also worry that this ruling could bolster Texas lawmakers who champion “religious refusal” laws to file more in 2019. The Texas Legislature considered a slew of religious refusal laws in 2017 — by an ACLU count, lawmakers weighed 17 bills that would have would have discriminated against LGBT individuals in the name of religious freedom. Perhaps the most noteworthy of those bills was House Bill 3859, a measure that allows religious welfare providers to deny adoptions and other services to LGBT people. That law prompted California to block state-funded travel to Texas. 

While the court didn’t issue a blanket protection for religious refusals, Monday’s decision will only empower lawmakers who favor such measures to file more in the future, Robertson said. That would follow a pattern she said emerged after the high court ruled in the landmark Obergefell case that same-sex couples have the right to marry. After that decision, she said, there was a backlash of discriminatory measures from Texas lawmakers. 

“People who advance those arguments are going to take this case as support and justification [for religious refusals],” Robertson said. “When there is a really clear [pro-LGBT] ruling from the Supreme Court, the Texas Legislature comes back and tries to think of ways to legislate around that ruling, or legislate in a way that ignores the ruling.” 

Disclosure: Rebecca Roberston, Equality Texas and the University of Texas at Austin have been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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

Emma Platoff is a breaking news and civil courts reporter at The Texas Tribune, where she started as a fellow in 2017. She is the first to fill either role. A recent graduate of Yale University, Emma is the former managing editor of the Yale Daily News and a former intern at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Hartford Courant.

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Austin

Gay Couple Attacked in Dowtown Austin

Austin Police confirmed that all four suspects in the January 19 attack against Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry are now in custody.

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Attack victims Spencer Deehring (left) and Tristan Perry (right). Attack suspects Frank Macias (center top left), Quinn O'Connor (center top right), Miguel Macias (center bottom left), and Kolby Monell (center bottom right).

A gay couple in Austin were hospitalized after being attacked and beaten unconscious by a group of five men in downtown Austin early Saturday morning. The men say they were targeted because of their sexual orientation telling KXAN that they believe their attackers were set off by seeing the couple holding hands.

Night Out

Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry were out Friday night with a group of friends, celebrating a friend’s birthday, stopping by several downtown bars. The couple told KXAN that they only had a couple drinks early in the night. Since they had drove downtown, they wanted to be sober when the night ended.

The Attack

The men say they left Rain on 4th at approximately 2:20 AM Saturday morning and were walking to their car, hand-in-hand, when a man passed them and directed a homophobic slur at the couple. Deehring responded by saying, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.” That was when the man called out to four other people, who had been out of sight, and motioned for them to come over.

The group of attackers began to follow Deehring and Perry, verbally assaulting the couple with expletives as they continued the walk to their car. “The last thing I said to one of the guys before they attacked both of us was like, ‘I don’t have anything more to say to you guys, we’re just going home, leave us alone’,” Deehring told KXAN.

It was then that one of the attackers punched Perry in the face, breaking his nose. As he dropped to his knees, two of the other assailants stepped up and continued to attack Perry, hitting and kicking him until he was unconscious, including a kick to the back of the head by one of the attackers.

“The last blow he took was an extremely long kick to the back of his head, so, at that point, I thought he was dead. I thought that that kick alone had killed him and so, when he was just lying there, my first instinct kicked in to kind of just charge at the guy that kicked him because I wanted to create some kind of diversion,” Deehring told Fox 7.

Deehring immediately tried to tackle the men attacking Perry. “That was my first reaction, was to stop them from kicking him because he couldn’t receive one more blow to the head or he may well have been dead,” he told KXAN. He himself was knocked unconscious by the attackers.

A bystander who witnessed the attack called 911 and waited with the couple until police and EMS arrived, which Deehring estimated took 20 minutes. He noted that had it not been for the bystander, the attack may have continued and their injuries more severe.

Their Injuries

The couple was transported to Dell Seton Medical Center at the University of Texas at Austin where they were treated and hospitalized for their injuries. Both men have since been released.

Last night I was a victim of a brutal hate crime. I was beaten and called a “faggot” as well as numerous other terms…

Posted by Spencer Deehring on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Deehring’s injuries included a concussion, lacerations on his forehead, swelling to his mouth and jaw, and bruising from blows to the back of his head and neck.

The focus of the initial assault, Perry sustained more extensive injuries, including a concussion, lacerations to the back of his head, a broken nose, busted lip, chipped teeth and suffered from swelling in his face, pain in his neck and back and needed stitches over his eye. He also reported some memory loss from the head injuries he sustained. He was readmitted to the hospital Sunday for persistent bleeding, but has since been released.

last night my boyfriend and i went out for a drink with some of his friends, and unfortunately when he and i were…

Posted by Tristan Perry on Saturday, January 19, 2019

Details

The original account to KXAN had the couple leaving Rain on 4th at approximately 2:45 AM and the following attack occuring near 7th and Red River streets. In their interview with FOX 7, the couple said they left Rain on 4th at approximately 2:20 AM and the attack happened near 4th and Guadalupe streets.

According to the Austin Police Department, the incident occured at 3rd Street and Congress Avenue just before 2:30 AM and the bystander’s 911 call was pinged from an address near West 4th Street. Deehring said police told him his misremembering the location of the attack was likely a result of the concussion he sustained from head trauma during the attack. Rain on 4th confirmed the couple exited that bar at 2:18 AM.

A request to the Austin Police Department for a copy of the police report from the night of the attack was denied by the department. “The requested information pertains to ongoing criminal investigation. The detective assigned to this investigation has advised that the release of the requested information would interfere with this ongoing investigation,” said the City of Austin’s Law Department in a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s office asking for a decision from the Attorney General as to whether this information is within an exception to public disclosure. “Accordingly, it is the department’s position that the release of information pertaining to this investigation would interfere with the detection, investigation, or prosecution of crime, and the department seeks to withhold the information represented by the enclosed records under Section 552(a)(1).”

The couple are encouraging others to be cautious when they’re out and to not travel alone, and that they plan to keep going out and being affectionate in public.”Spread love, end all this hatred, end all this closed-mindedness always watch your surroundings, always be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk alone,” Perry told KXAN, with Deehring adding, “Be aware of your surroundings, but don’t change who you are as a person, don’t ever change who you are as a person and don’t be afraid to go out there and explore the world, just as you are. We’re gonna do that too.”

The couple have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help cover medical expenses.

Search for the Attackers

The couple hope the police will find and prosecute the attackers. According to Deehring, police have surveillance video from the night of the attack showing them walking down 3rd Street and Congress Avenue. Police are using the video to track down the assailants involved in the attack.

“They have so many people working on this. Multiple supervisors, multiple people checking cameras,” Deehring told KXAN. “It’s good to hear APD is doing everything they can and are taking it very seriously.”

They are also asking that the bystander who called 911 to come forward to participate in the investigation

Rewards

The owners of Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s are offering a $5,000 reward for any new information which leads to an arrest in connection with the attack.

The Owners of Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s are offering a $5,000 reward for any new information which leads to an arrest in connection with the Hate-Crime attack against Spencer Deehring and Tristan Perry on the early morning of Saturday, January 19th in downtown Austin.

For too long gay-bashings have threatened our community. Historically and still to this day establishments like ours have provided sanctuary and security from these incidents. At Rain on 4th and Oilcan Harry’s we strive daily to provide a safe and tolerant environment for our community, and our actions do not stop at our doors. We will not stand by when our customers and community members are brutally assaulted simply for expressing their love.

Rain on 4th has been in contact with Mayor Adler’s office as well as Police Chief Manley and Assistant Chief Newsom. We will continue to coordinate resources and actions to help ensure this crime is fully investigated and prosecuted. We are also working together on community safety measures to ensure we send a strong message that threats in the warehouse district will not be ignored.

Anyone having information concerning the crime please call APD at 512-974-9207 or contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS. You may remain anonymous.

Additionally, the Shefman Law Group’s Cyclistlaw.com and R-Events are each offering an additional $2,500 reward and the Austin Playhouse‘s production of “Paradise” is offering an addition $1,000 reward. The combined reward stands at $11,000.

Anyone having information concerning the crime please call APD at 512-974-9207 or contact Crime Stoppers at 512-472-TIPS. You may remain anonymous.

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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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27feb7:30 PM10:00 PMHEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH7:30 PM - 10:00 PM The Topfer Theatre at ZACHCategories:TheatreAges:18+

27feb9:00 PM2:00 PMThe Sabel Showft. Dakota Nicole Savage9:00 PM - 2:00 PM Rain on 4thCategories:DragAges:18+

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28feb7:00 PM9:00 PMDrag BingoHost by Vegas Van Cartier7:00 PM - 9:00 PM BT2 AustinCategories:DragAges:21+

28feb7:30 PM10:00 PMHEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH7:30 PM - 10:00 PM The Topfer Theatre at ZACHCategories:TheatreAges:18+

28feb01marTexas Hold'em TournamentHosted by Wild West Casino Games8:30 PM - (march 1) 12:00 AM BT2 AustinCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

28feb01marDown & Dirty Thursday ft. DJ ProtégéAll-Male Amateur StripOff ft. Bobby Cook & Sabel Scities10:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Rain on 4thCategories:NightlifeAges:18+

28feb01marCountry Nightft. DJ Michael Bond10:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Oilcan Harry'sCategories:NightlifeAges:21+

28feb01marDivas on 4thHosted by Nadine Hughes11:00 PM - (march 1) 2:00 AM Sellers UndergroundCategories:Drag,NightlifeAges:21+

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