Drama in the Texas Lege: Anti-LGBT Discrimination Bill Stopped Again, But Another Fight on the Way

UPDATE, 10 a.m., May 28: State Sen. Eddie Lucio, R-Brownsville, announced Wednesday night that he was withdrawing from Senate consideration the bill he had revised to include language barring state and local officials from providing or recognizing marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Earlier in the day, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, passed up a final chance to amend onto an agency sunset bill a measure allowing child welfare service providers that contract with the state to use religion to discriminate in matters involving foster care, adoption and other placement services. The failure of both measures is a major victory for supporters of equality in Texas.

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Lawmakers filed more than 20 bills promoting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Texans this year. Just one or two remain alive after some drama at the state Capitol Tuesday night. But we can’t stop fighting yet.

Midnight Tuesday was the deadline for the Texas House to pass Senate bills on second reading. As the deadline neared, we prepared for a battle over shameful legislation allowing child welfare agencies that contract with the state to use religion to discriminate. The sponsor of that measure, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, had already tried to pass other anti-LGBT legislation. Now he wanted to discriminate against qualified LGBT families that could provide stable, loving homes for children who had been abused and neglected.

But the Texas Freedom Network and our fantastic partners — Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas and the Human Rights Campaign — lobbied hard against Sanford’s plan to amend his discrimination measure onto a bill (SB 206) reauthorizing the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). We alerted the news media and urged activists to contact legislators in opposition. And our work paid off when Sanford’s amendment was persuaded not to bring his amendment to a vote in the House.

But very quickly afterward, the fight shifted to the Senate on the other side of the Capitol. In a sneak attack on equality after 11 p.m., state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, tried to add Sanford’s discrimination amendment to another bill dealing with DFPS. TFN and our partners had already prepared our Senate friends for that possibility — so they were ready.

State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, took the lead in opposition, directly challenging the bill’s author and Sen. Campbell. He then used his knowledge of Senate rules to raise an objection that forced Campbell to withdraw her amendment, effectively killing it in that chamber.

We’re relieved, but the fight isn’t over. We’ll be watching for any effort by Sanford to revive his discrimination amendment in the House today.

In addition, the Texas Senate could take up — as soon as today — legislation that would bar state and local officials from licensing, enforcing or recognizing marriage licenses for same-sex couples even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples.

Since this outrageous legislation could be heard in the Senate at any minute, it’s important that Texans call their state senators NOW in opposition. Look up your senator’s number here and him or her them to vote against HB 2977 unless the anti-LGBT language is stripped from the bill.

Let’s make sure that when this difficult legislative session ends on Monday, supporters of equality have defeated discrimination at every turn.

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, LGBT issues, TFN | 5 Comments

Texas Senate Committee Revives Zombie Marriage Discrimination Bill

We’ve been warning that this was possible — no bill is ever entirely dead until the Legislature goes home. We just sent out the following press release:

Just two weeks after it died in the Texas House, a measure designed to subvert a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage has been suddenly revived in the Texas Senate.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, chair of the Senate Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, added to an omnibus bill on county government — HB 2977 by state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston — core language from state Rep. Cecil Bell’s failed HB 4105. HB 4105 would have barred state and local officials from licensing, enforcing or recognizing a same-sex marriage even if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. HB 4105 died in the House two weeks ago.

The committee first approved the revised HB 2977 Monday night. The committee took a second vote today after some committee members objected that Sen. Lucio hadn’t told them that the marriage language had been added to the bill. Sen. Lucio, a Democrat, voted with three Republicans to approve the revised bill. Two Democrats, Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Sen. José Menéndez of San Antonio, voted against.

A coalition of civil liberties and LGBT-rights organizations — American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Equality Texas, Texas Freedom Network and the Human Rights Campaign — issued the following statements about the revised bill:

Terri Burke, Executive Director, ACLU of Texas:

“Sen. Lucio’s attempt to stain Texas’ reputation with this retrograde legislation demonstrates that he’s on the wrong side of history and not in line with Texas values. In the long run, we are confident that the Supreme Court will grant loving LGBT couples the freedom to marry in Texas. And we call upon the Senate to defeat this attempt to enshrine discrimination in our state.”

Chuck Smith, Executive Director, Equality Texas:

“At its core, the amendment added to HB 2977 by Sen. Lucio is an attempt to subvert any future ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the freedom to marry. Pursuing a strategy to defy the Supreme Court will cost Texas taxpayers millions in litigation and cause great damage to our economy and reputation. In its present form, HB2977 must be defeated.”

Kathy Miller, President, Texas Freedom Network:

“This reckless move tosses aside the state’s responsibilities under the U.S. Constitution and callously betrays loving gay and lesbian couples who simply want to make a lifetime commitment and protect their families the same way everyone else does. Every senator, regardless of party, should reject this amended bill and save Texas from the same firestorm of criticism that swept through Indiana and other states that have passed legislation promoting discrimination against LGBT people and their families.”

Marty Rouse, National Field Director, Human Rights Campaign:

“This amendment sends an extreme message about the future of the Lone Star State – a future where all Texans are not welcome to live and thrive. Texas Senators must do everything in their power to stop this destructive and divisive assault on LGBT Texans and their families before it inflicts needless damage on this great state.”

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFN | 5 Comments

A Busy Sunday at the Legislature

It was a hectic Sunday at the Texas Legislature. Thank you to tall who took action and contacted your reps during the holiday weekend.

Here’s what happened on what turned out to be not much of a holiday for legislators.

Sanford’s anti-LGBT amendment
State Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, did not get an opportunity to offer an amendment allowing discrimination against LGBT people who want to provide loving homes to children. The amendment may be offered again as early as Tuesday when the House debates Senate Bill 206. Here’s some background on Sanford’s proposal. And you can tell legislators you oppose the amendment by going here.

Cruel anti-abortion amendment
State Rep. Jonathan Stickland. R-Bedford, pulled down an amendment that would force a pregnant person to carry a nonviable fetus to term. Stickland did so in lieu of another anti-abortion measure, SB 575, which almost died last night before being revived at the last minute. This late move, by the way, involves Rep. Stickland reportedly almost getting into a physical altercation with a Republican colleague.

HB 3994
HB 3994 was not heard in the Senate as was expected Sunday. The bill would make it harder for abused and neglected teens to obtain what’s known as a judicial bypass to obtain an abortion. On Sunday evening the Senate sponsor of HB 3994, state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, pulled another controversial provision from the bill, one requiring anyone seeking an abortion, regardless of age, to provide a government-issued ID.

While nixing the ID provision is good, the bill is still a bad bill.

TFN and its partners will keep fighting it, too. It may be debated and voted on as early as today in the Senate, which is what we’ll be watching today.

Opponents of HB 3994 have been organizing around the hash tag #HereForJaneTX, so look for that on social media for updates. Also, if you haven’t already, take action here and tell legislators to oppose any laws that would further restrict abortion.

That’s it for now as we enter the last week of the legislative session.

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, abortion, LGBT issues, TFN | 3 Comments

The Week in Quotes (May 17 – 23)

Here are some of the week’s most notable quotes culled from news reports from across Texas, and beyond.

continue reading »

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Poll: Big Shifts in American Views on Social Issues

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A new Gallup poll has some troubling news for the religious right: For the first time since the firm began asking the question in 1999, the percentage of Americans identifying as liberal on social issues is the same as the percentage identifying as socially conservative.

The poll, conducted May 6-10, shows that 31 percent of Americans now say their views on social issues are liberal, the highest percentage recorded by Gallup since 1999. Conversely, the percentage identifying their views on social issues as conservative has dropped to 31 percent, down 11 points since 2009. That year the percentage of socially conservative Americans was 17 points higher than the percentage identifying as socially liberal.

The dramatic closing of that gap is the result of changing attitudes among both Democrats and Republicans, according to the survey. Over the past six years, Democrats have become significantly more likely to identify as socially liberal while Republicans are likewise less likely to identify as socially conservative.

The release of the poll comes as a separate Gallup survey shows support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples has reached 60 percent, a record high.

Perhaps these changing attitudes among Americans provide some explanation for the increasingly venomous and divisive rhetoric we hear from religious-right leaders and the politicians they support.

Posted in poll, TFNEF | 12 Comments

Texas AG Paxton Praises Louisiana Governor’s Discrimination Order

As this year’s legislative session nears an end in Texas, major bills promoting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are stalled. So what happens if none of those bills passes? Our neighboring state to the east might be providing one possible answer.

On Tuesday a legislative committee in Louisiana essentially rejected a sweeping, Indiana-style discrimination bill. That legislation would allow individuals and businesses to use religion to discriminate against legally married gay and lesbian couples. Hours later, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal thumbed his nose at state lawmakers and issued an executive order imposing the discrimination policy on his state anyway.

This desperate political gamble by Jindal, who is pushing for the support of religious-righters in his quest for the Republican presidential nomination next year, has already been met by a storm of criticism (including charges of hypocrisy).

But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is praising Jindal:

PaxtonJindal

“Great step by a strong leader,” Paxton tweeted today, before cynically equating religious liberty with discrimination.

Paxton is one of the most strident opponents of LGBT equality, especially the freedom to marry. He has insisted that Texas lawmakers pass legislation that would help him resist a possible U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer striking down state bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional.

Whether the Legislature ultimately passes such a measure, Paxton has sounded like a man searching for a way to block any such ruling. In fact, Paxton has even refused to say whether Texas would have to obey the Supreme Court.

The reality is Texas would be constitutionally bound by a Supreme Court decision. But Texans should be prepared for the legal chaos that follows if the state’s top law enforcement official refuses to accept that reality.

Posted in Ken Paxton, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 4 Comments

Anti-LGBT Discrimination Amendments Are a Danger in Texas House on Thursday

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We’re down to just 12 days left in the 2015 legislative session in Texas, and attacks on LGBT equality are becoming increasingly desperate. Rumors are swirling about potential amendments to SB 2065, which is scheduled for debate by the Texas House on Thursday.

Religious-right groups are clamoring for passage of SB 2065, which they say will prevent clergy from being forced to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs. But the Constitution and state law already protect that right for clergy, and no one has proposed changing that.

So what is the religious right up to now? This could be the last gasp for mean-spirited legislation like state Rep. Cecil Bell’s “Defy the Supreme Court” effort to block marriage equality in Texas, or state Rep. Scott Sanford’s proposal to allow discrimination against LGBT families in the adoption and foster care system. Either of those previously dead bills could rise tomorrow as an amendment to SB 2065.

It’s time to take to email and the phones again to tell your state representative: Vote NO on any discriminatory amendments to SB 2065.

So far this legislative session, supporters of equality have blocked efforts to enshrine anti-LGBT discrimination in state law. Don’t let up now. Click here to tell your representative: Discrimination has no place in Texas.

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, LGBT issues, TFN | 1 Comment

Another Discrimination Measure Hits a Roadblock in Texas House

On Monday, for the second time in less than a week, legislation promoting discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people hit a roadblock in the Texas House. That’s good news. What’s not is that the lawmaker promoting that discrimination amendment was willing to put abused and neglected children at further risk so that he could push a shameful political agenda.

Monday’s action came during debate on SB 206, the sunset reauthorization bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services. During the debate, Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, proposed an amendment allowing child welfare service providers that contract with the state to use religion to discriminate.

Sanford’s intent, of course, was to promote discrimination against LGBT people seeking to care for children in the state’s protective services system. But his amendment would go far beyond that by also allowing providers to discriminate against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom the provider has religious objections. As written, the amendment could also make it difficult for the state to stop service providers from forcing lesbian and gay minors into abusive and discredited reparative “therapy” programs that seek to change someone’s sexual orientation.

Opponents, mostly House Democrats, were rightly appalled. So state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, used a point of order — a technical objection — to halt consideration of SB 206 and send the bill back to committee. With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, the fate of that agency reauthorization bill is unclear.

Now stop and think about this for a moment. Rep. Sanford had already been warned that his amendment jeopardized passage of SB 206, which reauthorizes an agency that deals with abused and neglected children. But he and religious-right pressure groups insisted on trying to change the bill to promote discrimination against LGBT people who simply want to provide safe, loving homes for those children. That’s repugnant.

Yesterday’s actions on SB 206 came after legislative opponents used brilliant stalling tactics to keep another anti-LGBT discrimination bill from passing the House before a key deadline last Thursday. That bill, HB 4105 by state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, would have barred state and local officials from granting or recognizing marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional.

The Texas Freedom Network and partner organizations — Equality Texas, ACLU of Texas and the Human Rights Campaign — have been working with supportive lawmakers throughout this legislative session to stop the right’s discrimination agenda. The more than 20 bills in that divisive, mean-spirited agenda would enshrine in state law discrimination against LGBT people and their families.

We will continue working hard to keep those bills from passing. And if it wasn’t clear before yesterday, it should be now: supporters of equality will use whatever tools are available to stop efforts to promote discrimination against people simply because of who they are and whom they love.

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, LGBT issues, TFN | 3 Comments

National Support for the Freedom to Marry at Record High Even as Texas Republicans Resist

Gallup_Marriage

While some Texas legislators and far-right groups continue to push measures to block the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples, a new Gallup poll shows their views are shared by a steadily shrinking minority of people across the country.

The poll released today shows that a record-high 60 percent of Americans say that marriages between same-sex couples should be legally recognized and have the same rights as traditional marriages. Just 37 percent said they oppose same-sex marriage.

Back in early 2009, when Barack Obama became president, support for same-sex marriage stood at just 40 percent. It stood at just 37 percent in 2005, the year after President George W. Bush promoted a federal constitutional amendment banning such unions during his re-election campaign. That was the same year Texas voters approved a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

Now, however, support for same-sex marriage has reached new highs among Democrats, Independents and even Republicans nationwide, Gallup says. Todays’ poll showed that 76 percent of Democrats, 64 percent of Independents and 37 percent of Republicans support same-sex marriage. Opponents of same-sex marriage were more likely to insist that any political candidates they support share their views on the issue.

Gallup_Marriage_Party

Texas is just one of 13 states that still ban same-sex marriage. Last Thursday Republican lawmakers failed to win passage of a bill intended to reinforce that ban before a key deadline in the Texas House of Representatives. HB 4105 by state Rep. Cecile Bell, R-Magnolia, would bar state and local officials from issuing or recognizing marriage licenses for same-sex couples even if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that state bans on such unions are unconstitutional.

Then on Friday the Texas House Republican Caucus released a letter, signed by 93 of the chamber’s 98 GOP members, reaffirming their opposition to the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian couples. Rep. Bell says he is looking for a way to add his discrimination bill as an amendment to other legislation before the end of the current legislative session on June 1.

You can read more about the new poll here.

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 3 Comments

URGENT: Anti-LGBT sneak attack expected today in the Texas House

Take ActionWe’re hearing that state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, is expected to offer a dangerous religious-refusal amendment during the debate on SB 206 in the House later today.

The amendment (which is almost identical to HB 3864) would permit discrimination against LGBT children and families in adoption, foster care and child welfare placements. Also, the broad language of this bill would allow private agencies to discriminate against single or divorced people, interfaith couples, as well as people with different faiths than the agency. All of these could potentially be turned away from providing homes to children.

Call your state representative and tell them to vote against the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Posted in 2015 Texas Legislature, LGBT issues, TFN | 4 Comments