3 other incoming Democrats from the Lone Star State fail to respond to questions about co-sponsoring key pieces of pro-LGBT legislation
Two newly elected members of the Texas Democratic congressional delegation pledged this week to co-sponsor two key pieces of pro-LGBT legislation — the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Respect for Marriage Act.
But it remained unclear whether the other three new Democratic members of Congress from Texas would co-sponsor ENDA, which would ban anti-LGBT job discrimination, and the RFMA, which would repeal the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act.
Come January, Texas will have a total of five new Democrats in Congress — two who’ll represent newly drawn districts, two who’ll replace fellow
Democrats and one who defeated a Republican in the state’s only swing district. The five will give Texas a total of 12 Democrats in Congress, along with 24 Republican representatives and two Republican senators.
“I would proudly sponsor ENDA,” said U.S. Rep.-elect Marc Veasey, a Democrat who’ll represent the newly drawn District 33 in Dallas and Tarrant counties.
Asked about DOMA repeal, Veasey added: “Oh, God yes, I’d be all for sponsoring that.”
The campaign offices of all five newly elected Texas Democrats were contacted for this story.
However, only Veasey and Matt Sutton, campaign spokesman for Rep.-elect Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, had responded by press time to the newspaper’s questions about co-sponsoring ENDA and the Respect for Marriage Act.
Sutton said he was unable to arrange an interview with O’Rourke right away because he was in Washington for orientation.
“I can, however, tell you, he has been a staunch supporter of equality, and would support ENDA and the Respect for Marriage Act,” Sutton said.
O’Rourke, a former El Paso city councilman, ousted incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic Primary.
O’Rourke featured a video on LGBT rights on his campaign website and was a strong supporter — and later a defender — of the council’s decision to offer domestic partner benefits.
“They have no more choice to be gay than I have in having brown hair or a funny nose,” O’Rourke once told anti-gay protesters at a City Council meeting, according to media reports.
Human Rights Campaign spokesman Michael Cole-Schwartz said ENDA and Respect for Marriage are the two main bills his organization would address with members of Congress in the next session.
Cole-Schwartz called it critically important to build support through adding sponsors even if legislation isn’t expected to pass in the Republican-controlled House.
“Passing big pieces of legislation takes a long time,” he said. “The first step in reaching the end goal is getting sponsors.”
The other newly elected Texas Democrats in Congress are Joaquín Castro, Pete Gallego and Filemon Vela.
LGBT advocates in San Antonio said they’re hopeful about Castro and Gallego, who’ll both represent portions of the Alamo City.
Castro, the brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, has served in the Texas Legislature since 2003. The brothers came into the national spotlight at the Democratic National Convention in September.
The mayor is known among the city’s LGBT community as the first in San Antonio to march in a Pride parade and for leading the fight on City Council for domestic partner benefits.
However, his brother hasn’t shared the same popularity among the LGBT community.
Stonewall Democrats of San Antonio President Elena Guajardo said, “There’s been some concern about him,” adding that her group chose to endorse him anyway.
Dan Graney, the former president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus who lives in San Antonio, said, “He seems timid on the record supporting marriage equality.”
At issue are two particular votes while he served in the Legislature.
In his freshman year in the House in 2003, Castro was absent from a vote on a bill that barred Texas from recognizing any same-sex relationship from another state. He didn’t say how he would have voted.
In 2005, he voted “present, not voting” on the resolution that put Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on the ballot.
During the recent election cycle, he told the LGBT news website QSanAntonio he would change both to “no” votes if he could go back in time.
Guajardo said Castro told her group he was in a swing district during his first term and was afraid of his constituents’ reaction.
Graney said Castro told Stonewall that while in the Texas House, he was busy with his law practice, as well as his brother’s mayoral campaign. But as a U.S. congressman, he would stand squarely on the side of equality.
Guajardo compared Castro to Rep. Lloyd Doggett, whose new district boundaries include portions of San Antonio for the first time.
“Lloyd Doggett came into town and didn’t take us for granted,” she said.
She said he called her and invited her to breakfast to discuss her group supporting his campaign and arranged to visit the San Antonio AIDS Foundation.
She said Doggett showed a genuine interest in representing his new constituents.
Castro was originally going to challenge Doggett for the seat, but when Rep. Charlie Gonzalez decided to retire in a neighboring district, he moved to that race.
But Guajardo said Castro pledged to be an ally and thinks his record in Congress will match his brother’s in the city.
“He said he’ll be our friend,” Guajardo said. “We’ll hold him to his word.”
Gallego’s district, larger than many states, runs 550 miles from West San Antonio to eastern El Paso County. He won without Stonewall’s endorsement but Graney said he expects him to generally be an ally.
“Even though his campaign manager indicated he wanted our support, Pete failed to respond,” Graney said.
Gallego never returned a Stonewall questionnaire and without one, the group will not endorse. Another candidate got the endorsement in the primary and no recommendation was made for the general election, in which he defeated Republican incumbent Francisco “Quico” Canseco.
“Hopefully, we’ll develop a relationship,” Graney said.
Gallego voted against Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, but placed a note in the House Journal saying that his vote against the marriage amendment was because it also outlawed civil unions.
“I fully agree that the institution of marriage should be limited to one man and one woman,” Gallego wrote. “I supported the Defense of Marriage Act, which is current Texas law. If that were the issue before us today, I would vote the same way again. However, in its continuing zeal to protect the institution of marriage, the legislature now infringes on the contractual rights of both men and women. For example, common-law marriages between men and women are in essence civil unions — but the Chisum Amendment bans civil unions between men and women — and not solely between individuals of the same sex. This is an unnecessary and improper governmental intrusion into the rights of individuals.”
Vela’s Brownsville office said they would pass along emailed questions about his support of LGBT issues but he did not respond before deadline.
He is married to Rose Vela, a Republican judge on the 13th Court of Appeals. His mother served as mayor of Brownsville and his father was a federal judge appointed by President Jimmy Carter. A cousin has worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations.
Despite his family’s ties to the Democratic Party, he was accused of being a Republican because of his wife’s affiliation. This is Vela’s first election and he is not on record on LGBT issues.
Seven of the nine current Texas Democrats in Congress are co-sponsors of ENDA — Doggett, Gonzalez, Al Green, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Ruben Hinojosa and Reyes.
No Texas Republicans are sponsors. In the last session, the bill had 171 co-sponsors.
Five of the nine current Texas Democrats in Congress are co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act — Doggett, Green, Lee, Johnson and Reyes.
The Respect for Marriage has 157 co-sponsors nationally. No Republicans from Texas are co-sponsors.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 16, 2012.