Greg Abbott’s Pitiful Defense of Inequality

Opponents of marriage equality keep trotting out the same tired arguments in an attempt to justify legalized discrimination against LGBT families. In state after state, federal courts keep knocking those arguments down. But Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott makes essentially the same already-rejected arguments anyway in a new court brief defending the Texas ban on same-sex marriage.

From the Texas Tribune:

The brief was filed with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the state is appealing a state district court judge’s February ruling that the ban is unconstitutional. …

Abbott’s office contends that a same-sex marriage ban meets the Equal Protection Clause’s prescription that laws “be rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” The state argues that promoting opposite-sex marriage encourages the birth of children “in the context of stable, lasting relationships” in a way that same-sex marriage could not.

More fundamentally, the brief says, the courts should not overrule Texas voters’ decision in 2005 to define marriage in the state constitution as “solely the union of one man and one woman.”

Regardless of the court’s legal authority to strike down same-sex marriage bans, the attorney general argues, democracy would be better served by allowing voters to decide.

The brief also argues that the state doesn’t need to prove that same-sex marriage is detrimental to the state interests, but simply that opposite-sex marriage is more beneficial. The state says a ban on same-sex marriage does not contradict the U.S. Constitution, U.S. Supreme Court rulings or the country’s history and traditions.

This passage in Abbott’s court brief stuck out for us:

The State’s recognition and encouragement of opposite-sex marriages increases the likelihood that naturally procreative couples will produce children, and that they will do so in the context of stable, lasting relationships. By encouraging the formation of opposite-sex marriages, the State seeks not only to encourage procreation but also to minimize the societal costs that can result from procreation outside of stable, lasting marriages. Because same-sex relationships do not naturally produce children, recognizing same-sex marriage does not further these goals to the same extent that recognizing opposite-sex marriage does. That is enough to supply a rational basis for Texas’s marriage laws.


First, there is evidence that opposite-sex marriages are not necessarily more “stable” and “lasting” than same-sex unions. Consider this British study from 2012, for example:

The most recent evidence from the UK Office of National Statistics finds that homosexual couples that joined in 2005 were significantly less likely to have filed for dissolution four years later than heterosexual couples were to have filed for divorce: 2.5% compared to 5.5%.

A 2011 study from the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles reported similar findings. The point here isn’t that a same-sex marriage would necessarily be more stable than an opposite-sex marriage either. Who could really know either way? But our state’s chief law enforcement officer simply presents as fact something he can’t prove and for which there is contrary evidence.

And what does Abbott mean by “naturally produce children”? Some children are conceived through artificial insemination or surrogacy, for example. Is that “natural” if it happens within the context of an opposite-sex marriage but not a same-sex union? Moreover, many couples — opposite- and same-sex — adopt children because they are not able to conceive “naturally” (however Abbott chooses to define the term). After all, one or both partners in an opposite-sex marriage can be infertile or otherwise unable to conceive. And many opposite-sex couples simply choose not to have children. But the state doesn’t bar them from getting married.

A federal court, ruling in Kitchen v. Herbert in December 2013, made similar points in striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage. That court also noted that procreation isn’t always the purpose of getting married anyway, whether for same- or opposite-sex couples:

The court does not find the State’s argument compelling because, however persuasive the ability to procreate might be in the context of a particular religious perspective, it is not a defining characteristic of conjugal relationships from a legal and constitutional point of view. The State’s position demeans the dignity not just of same-sex couples, but of the many opposite-sex couples who are unable to reproduce or who choose not to have children. Under the State’s reasoning, a post-menopausal woman or infertile man does not have a fundamental right to marry because she or he does not have the capacity to procreate. This proposition is irreconcilable with the right to liberty that the Constitution guarantees to all citizens.

Finally, let’s consider for a moment Abbott’s argument that the decision about whether the state recognizes same-sex marriages should be left to the voters of Texas. We wonder: what fundamental rights enjoyed by himself would Abbott be willing to put to a vote by the general public?

Posted in Greg Abbott, LGBT issues, marriage, marriage equality, TFNEF | 2 Comments

Very Petty, Attorney General Abbott

The First Amendment might protect the right of Americans “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” but some Texans found out today that it doesn’t bar elected officials from insulting people who exercise that right.

Today Equality Texas tried to deliver to the office of state Attorney General Greg Abbott thousands of petitions from Texans asking Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry to stop defending the state’s unconstitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But Abbott, who opposes marriage equality, decided to be petty about it and had the folks delivering those petitions turned away in the lobby. From an Equality Texas email earlier today:

Equality Texas and several same-sex couples and their families had planned to deliver over 5,200 petitions to Attorney General Greg Abbott urging that he and Governor Rick Perry drop their defense of the state’s hurtful and discriminatory ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Despite the plans prearranged last week in which a staff member would meet us in the lobby and take possession of the petitions, the Attorney General’s office said they would only accept the petitions if they were mailed via an acceptable ground carrier.

Not to be deterred, the families trucked the wagon down the street to a nearby UPS Store and the petitions will be delivered to the Attorney General’s office on Tuesday.

So instead of gracefully accepting petitions from his fellow Texans, Attorney General Abbott arrogantly decided to insult them and force Equality Texas to spend money, unnecessarily, to have the petitions delivered commercially instead. How petty.

More from Equality Texas:

Just as these families were turned away today, every day that these discriminatory laws remain in place is another day that Texas couples and their families are denied the dignity and respect they are due under the United States Constitution.

You can read the full email from Equality Texas here.

Posted in Greg Abbott, LGBT issues, marriage equality, TFNEF | 3 Comments

Houston Anti-Gay Leader Issues Chilling Call in Effort to Repeal Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Dave Welch, head of the far-right Houston Area Pastor Council and one of the leading voices of anti-gay hate in Texas, is calling for “imprecatory prayers” as Houston officials review petition signatures from supporters of overturning the city’s new anti-discrimination ordinance.

Imprecatory prayers are those that ask God to burden, curse or even destroy wicked individuals and institutions. They typically are tied to the Bible’s imprecatory Psalms, such as Psalm 109:9 (“May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”) and Psalm 137:9 (“How blessed will be the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.”).

In an article emailed to supporters over the weekend, Welch writes that city officials are nearly done determining whether there are enough valid petition signatures to put repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on the November ballot. He calls on repeal supporters to pray while city officials finish that work:

“PRAY - imprecatory prayers for the Lord to oversee every detail and every person involved, to expose any impropriety, to bind spiritual forces of darkness in the city and to send confusion into the enemy camp.”

We’ve seen more and more prominent religious-righters call for imprecatory prayer in recent years. In 2009, for example, California pastor Wiley Drake issued a call for imprecatory prayers for the death for President Obama. That same year, former Navy chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, a religious-right hero, urged followers to offer imprecatory prayers calling for the death of the Rev. Barry Lynn, the head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Two years ago, far-right evangelical leader Scott Lively celebrated the destruction of a strip club in Springfield, Massachusetts, as an answer to his calls for imprecatory prayers to “re-Christianize” that city.

We’re not sure what in the world Welch means with his calls for imprecatory prayers regarding the HERO repeal effort. But whether or not he really wants the destruction of anyone (or any institution) in Houston, his call is chilling and dark. History is full of disturbed people who have done horrible things in the twisted belief that they were carrying out God’s will.

The Houston City Council passed HERO in May. HERO bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, race, religion, military status and other characteristics. City officials have until early next week to announce whether Welch and his allies gathered enough valid petition signatures to send HERO’s repeal to voters.


Posted in civil and equal rights, Dave Welch, Houston Area Pastor Council, Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, LGBT issues, TFN | 6 Comments

The Week in Quotes (July 13 – 26)

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

continue reading »

Posted in The Week in Quotes | 5 Comments

Texas Rising: What It’s All About

Texas Rising

By James Carneiro (writer bio)
TFN Student Activist

The state of Texas isn’t exactly known for its level of political engagement.

It ranks last in civic engagement and many people don’t even know who their state representative is. The conventional wisdom says most people will stay at home while a tiny though highly powerful bloc of right-wing voters will make it to the polls in November. Not surprisingly, this has created a state where birth control is non-existent in health textbooks, the separation of church and state is questioned in the social studies curriculum and close-minded representatives try to pass bills defunding gender and sexuality centers on college campuses. And the above nonsense doesn’t even come close to the far-right backlash on reproductive rights. If we continue on this path, family planning centers could become only a memory.

This is why progressives need to fight back. In response to the right-wing onslaught, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund has unveiled the Texas Rising campaign, a blueprint for capturing the energy and amplifying the voices of a rising young Texas electorate. The statistics make the importance of young voters crystal clear: 24 percent of eligible Texas voters are millennials, between the ages of 18 and 29.

But this is the part that will blow your mind: If every millennial voted, they could determine every policy initiative discussed in the Texas Legislature. Better yet, they could elect a new generation of forward-thinking people to public office. And just like that, a better Texas is born.

But this untapped power is useless unless it can be properly organized. The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund (TFNEF) is making this happen by educating young Texans on the issues impacting them and their community, providing them with the tools needed to participate in our democracy, and developing the emerging generation of diverse, progressive community leaders. TFNEF has partnered with Wellstone Action to make grassroots organizers out of young progressives through a series of trainings across the state. There have been five trainings so far, each one at a public university. The curriculum gives students the skills they’ll need to build voter engagement campaigns on their respective campuses. It teaches them how to tailor their message to young people, how to register this demographic to vote and how to get them to show up at the polls in November.

Texas Rising’s organizing strategy is derived from the Wellstone Triangle — a theory of organizing that TFN strongly believes in. The Wellstone Triangle uses a holistic approach to organizing that engages young leaders throughout the entire political process. From grassroots community organizing to public policy advocacy to electoral politics, this model covers it all.

Because the Texas Legislature meets every other year, Texas Rising has an annual task. When the Lege is not in session, we’ll focus on registering and getting young voters out to the polls. When the legislators are gathered in Austin, we’ll lobby our representatives and senators. Throughout this cycle, we’ll build a grassroots base to support the work for the long haul.

To those who are skeptical about young people being invested in politics, our experience has shown otherwise. During Texas Rising’s spring 2014 trainings, more than 100 students participated and drafted campaign plans on the spot. When these students returned to campus, they set up tables in the quad and registered entire classrooms and dorms of their peers. They mobilized their friends around the happenings at the State Board of Education (SBOE), organized to help pass the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), and worked to change the cultural stigma on abortion.

This summer, starting July 31, more than 40 student leaders from all over the state will gather in Austin for the Texas Rising Summer Institute, a four day training dedicated to issue education and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) organizing. They’ll show how student action is the solution to the state’s problems. Working with the media, online organizing, recruitment and retention will be explained. Each participant will help draft a GOTV plan for their campus. An entire day will be spent on the 1 in 3 campaign, an effort to end the stigma surrounding abortion through the power of story telling.

The work doesn’t end when the conference does. Students will continue to register voters and ensure they’re equipped with the correct form of voter ID. Then we’ll shift gears in October to concentrate on driving voter turnout.

If you’re still nervous about pulling this off, you don’t have to worry. TFN has been organizing young people for more than eight years in a state politically hostile to the values of us young progressives. With a track record like that, you know you’re in good hands.

TFN believes in young people. If it didn’t, a plan like this wouldn’t be attempted. When someone becomes engaged in the political process at a young age, he or she will stick with it – likely for a lifetime. This is especially important when considering the state’s rapidly changing demographics. Texas is getting younger and more diverse. If we can harness the power of this new generation, we can create a healthier, kinder and more tolerant state.

From El Paso to Austin to the Rio Grande Valley, the young folks are rising in the Lone Star State.

Posted in Texas Rising, TFNEF | Leave a comment

#ThrowBackTexas: Jon Stewart Explains the Unexplainable at the State Board of Education

ThrowBackTexasIt’s #ThrowbackThursday, and rather than posting pictures of the horrible outfit you wore 20 years ago, why not drop a little knowledge on your friends?

Right now the State Board of Education is trying to #ThrowbackTexas to a scarier time. In the alternate version of history promoted by some board members, slavery wasn’t that big of a deal, the separation of church and state was never in the Constitution and women just sat back and waited for men to give them the right to vote.

Yes, there are SBOE members who actually believe this. And this year those board members will decide what history textbooks Texas public school students will use for much of the next decade.

TFN wants the SBOE to adopt textbooks that teach facts and honest history, not the personal beliefs of politicians. That’s why we’re starting a #ThrowbackTexas weekly feature, giving you insights into the worldview that far-right SBOE members want to inject into our kids’ history textbooks.

First in our series is a Daily Show clip from 2010 that excoriates the SBOE in a way that only Jon Stewart can. Stewart was talking about the board’s revision of social studies curriculum standards for public schools. Publishers used those standards when they wrote new textbooks they submitted for consideration by the SBOE this year.

If you want to keep up with the SBOE’s plans to #ThrowbackTexas, make sure you’re following TFN on Facebook and Twitter.

And be sure to tune in every Thursday.

Posted in social studies adoption (2014), TFNEF | 2 Comments

Marco Rubio Says Opponents of Marriage Equality Are Victims of ‘Intolerance’

Religious-righters and allied politicians who are unyielding opponents of marriage equality for LGBT people have a peculiar view of “intolerance.”

In a speech today at Catholic University in the nation’s capital, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, complained that he and others who reject legal recognition of same-sex marriages are unfairly called haters and  bigots:

“Even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as someone who is a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay.”

He went on to acknowledge that gay and lesbian Americans have faced discrimination, but — insisting that “tolerance is a two-way street” – he suggested that opponents of marriage equality also face persecution for their beliefs:

“There is a growing intolerance on this issue,” Rubio said of those who back same-sex marriages. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”

Seriously, Sen. Rubio?

Opponents like Sen. Rubio haven’t just said they reject same-sex marriage. They have succeeded in passing sweeping constitutional bans in many states — including Texas and Florida. Here’s the amendment added to the Texas Constitution in 2005 (Article 1, Section 32):

Sec. 32. MARRIAGE. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman. (b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Similarly, a Florida Constitutional amendment in 2008 (Article 1, Section 27) defines marriage as only a union of one man and one woman and says that “no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.” Such bans clearly go far beyond addressing the supposed worries of opponents who see marriage itself as a special institution. They also bar legal recognition of any legal status for same-sex couples, including civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Federal courts have ruled that many state bans, including in Texas, violate the U.S. Constitution. (The Texas ruling has been stayed pending appeal.) But opponents also want to amend the federal Constitution to ban same-sex unions in all of the states.

So tell us again, Sen. Rubio: Who are intolerant people here? Are they those who believe same-sex couples deserve the right to marry and have their relationships treated equally with others under the law? Or are the intolerant ones those who insist that government enforce their own personal biases by barring any legal recognition for relationships they don’t like?

Posted in LGBT issues, TFNEF | 3 Comments

Be a Christian or GTFO?

Photo by Michael Cavazos, Longview News-Journal

First, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: TFN does not now nor has it ever had a position on immigration.

What TFN does have a position on is the First Amendment and the freedom it gives anyone, regardless of immigration status, to practice the faith of their choice or no faith at all.

Now to this, a disheartening article on a town hall meeting hosted by Republican state Rep. David Simpson in his east Texas hometown of Longview last night.

The story is full of crazy.

Simpson might be a tea party hero with lots of cred among conservatives, but he argued for compassion toward the unaccompanied children who have entered the United States to escape violence in their home countries. His constituents, on the other hand, are another story. They angrily accused the immigrant children of bringing with them a host of diseases, including leprosy, tuberculosis, influenza, etc. One went as far as saying that the children “are bleeding Texas (Democrat) blue.”

But the most disheartening comment came from an audience member the Longview paper identified as Thomas Rolland. Here’s that part of the story:

“Don’t take what we say personally,” Rolland told Simpson. “We need our borders protected. We need a lot of things, but what we don’t need is more people at the trough. These people are not coming in with a good, Christian heart. Most of them are criminals, anyway.”

Since when is Christianity a requirement in the United States? Moreover, how does Mr. Rolland know what’s in the hearts of these children? And if what’s required to stay in this country is a “good, Christian heart,” then Mr. Rolland just made the case for his own deportation.

Posted in immigration, TFNEF | 8 Comments

Religious-Right Groups Demand Freedom to Discriminate

Religious-right groups are, predictably, spitting venom over President Obama’s executive order barring discrimination against LGBT employees of the federal government and government contractors. The executive order, which the president announced on Monday, does not include an exemption allowing employers to discriminate for religious reasons.

The executive order did keep a provision from a 2002 executive order signed by President George W. Bush that allows religiously affiliated contractors to continue to give preference to workers of a certain religion. But religious-right groups also want employers to be able to fire or refuse to hire LGBT people and claim religious beliefs as the reason. (What about employers who have religious objections to women who work outside the home? Or white supremacists who base their hatred of racial minorities and Jews at least partly on their religious beliefs about what the Bible teaches?)

The executive order does not bar anti-LGBT discrimination by all employers — just by the government and contractors who do business with the government. A broader discrimination ban would require action by Congress. A weak anti-discrimination bill, the Employment Nondiscrimation Act (ENDA), has passed the Senate, but House Republicans have refused to take up the measure. A growing number of gay rights and civil liberties groups oppose the Senate version of ENDA anyway because it includes a religious exemption allowing discrimination against LGBT people.

Religious-right groups denounced the lack of a religious exemption in President Obama’s executive order.

The fanatics at Texas Values, the Austin lobby arm of Plano-based Liberty Institute and one of the most viciously anti-gay groups in the Lone Star State, revealed – as usual — their obsession with sex. The group’s president, Jonathan Saenz, charged that President Obama was “placing sexual behavior ahead of the common good.” He even suggested the executive order is President Obama’s retribution against Christians after the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling against the federal mandate that employee health insurance plans include coverage for birth control:

“President Obama’s executive order allows sexual behavior to trump Americans’ religious freedom rights. People of faith should not be punished simply because of the religious freedom ruling in the Hobby Lobby case against Obamacare.”

The American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls an anti-LGBT hate group, sent out an email this morning charging that the executive order “takes away religious freedoms from Christians”:

Obama’s love affair with homosexuality will impact some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers, or one-fifth of the U.S. workforce. More alarming, his order discriminates against Christians.

The AFA email also claims the executive order is unconstitutional, ignoring the nation’s long history of such orders. President Truman, for example, ended racial segregation in the U.S. military through Executive Order 9981. But groups like AFA and Texas Values don’t let facts get in the way of promoting hate and discrimination.

Posted in civil and equal rights, Jonathan Saenz, LGBT issues, Texas Values, TFNEF | Leave a comment

Who Will Stand? No, Seriously. Who?

TFN Insider is pleased to present this guest post from Rev. Michael Diaz, Director of Connections at Resurrection MCC Church in Houston. Rev. Diaz is a proud voice for social justice in his community for a host of issues, including equality for LGBTQ citizens.

Lunch with Liberty Counsel
Rev. Michael Diaz

Religious-right propaganda distributed at the event by Liberty Counsel.

Late last Thursday I received an invitation to a “Who Will Stand?” pastors meeting at Grace Community Church in Houston hosted by Liberty Counsel. It was short notice but my interest was piqued by the speaker line-up: “Governor Mike Huckabee, self-taught historian David Barton, Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, and many, many others.”

About 10 people were present, and maybe five were actual local church pastors with a few bringing their significant others. That’s right, only 10 people showed up in a room set up for 80 – with a catered lunch from Chick-fil-a boxes, of course! I must say the small turn-out surprised me, considering the build-up given to the event.

The speakers “appeared” on a 70-minute DVD designed to mobilize “Christians” to vote in November. Their main message centered upon the fact that churches are allowed to lobby politically, and that no church has ever lost their tax exempt status from the IRS for lobbying. Mr. David Barton gave more revisionist history about “England attacking all preachers in the 18th Century, and that’s why America was founded as a Christian nation.” Did the English monarchy (a Protestant monarchy!) really attack ALL preachers, including those in the Church of England? One of the speakers admitted the “religious right” is no more, and that’s why there’s a need for “Christians” to vote.

The meeting ended with a song about standing up and fighting, defending our “Christian” nation against “secular socialists.” Nice try.

I was surprised no one was present from the Houston Area Pastor’s Council, except for the infamous Kendall Baker, the epitome of Christian values. It made me wonder again just how it is that the “religious right” has created such fear among progressives.

In any case, I took the meeting message to heart: Who will stand in November? Whose voice will be heard from the voting booth when Texas’ future leadership is decided and measures like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance stand or fall based on turn-out? As a person of faith, I plan to do all I can to ensure it is the voice of inclusion my congregants and Texas’ leaders hear.

Posted in civil and equal rights, LGBT issues, religious right, Texas Freedom Network Education Fund | 6 Comments