2-week barrage of legislation seeking relationship recognition for same-sex couples in Texas is punctuated by Lon Burnam’s Valentine’s Day gift
AUSTIN — Five state lawmakers have filed legislation over the last two weeks that would bring relationship recognition to gay and lesbian couples in Texas.
The barrage of pro-equality bills received an exclamation point Thursday, when State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. Burnam’s bill would also require Texas to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.
Burnam said he filed HB 1300 on Valentine’s Day as a gift to LGBT Texans. He said marriage is “the greatest and most rewarding experience of my life” and wanted same-sex couples to experience it, even though bringing marriage equality to Texas will take time.
“I look at this as kind of the long road in the struggle for justice and it just needed to be done,” Burnam said.
And state Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also filed legislation this week with SB 480 to amend the family code and grant civil unions to same-sex couples.
Hours after Burnam filed the legislation, Mark “Major” Jiminez was joined by friends as he went to the Dallas County Records Building to apply for a marriage license during a GetEQUAL TX Valentine’s Day protest. Jiminez and his husband Beau Chandler were arrested at a similar protest in July for trespassing when they refused to leave without a license. This time Chandler couldn’t attend because of work, so Jiminez had Mike Montalvo serve as proxy for his husband.
Jiminez and Montalvo were denied the license as expected. Jiminez explained to the clerk that the U.S. Supreme Court could make a sweeping decision about marriage equality in June. If so, he said he would return with Chandler for a license in July because that is when both of their birthdays are. The clerk smiled and said that would make a great birthday present.
Jiminez said the recent legislation means more legislators have come to terms that marriage equality is coming and more should support the efforts to bring it to Texas.
“It’s promising. And it just shows that the whole country is united in little ways. Each state’s doing their own thing,” Jiminez said. “That just proves that there’s people in Texas working on it.”
But before civil unions or full marriage equality can go into effect by legislation, Texas’ marriage amendment that defines marriage as between one man and woman would have to be repealed.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has filed a bill to repeal the state’s marriage amendment in every legislative session since voters approved it in 2005.
The amendment defines marriage as between a man and a woman and prevents the recognition of anything similar or identical to marriage — including civil unions.
Coleman and state Rep. Rafael Anchia filed HJR 77 and HJR 78 last week to repeal the amendment. And for the first time, a companion bill, SJR 29, was filed in the Senate by state Rep. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso.
“It prepares the way of the repeal of this law,” Coleman said. “People have to have something to organize around. What anybody should want for the LGBT community is these issues are being forwarded in the Legislature.”
Anchia said he and Coleman agreed that the time was right with strong public support of marriage equality to try to “memorialize the rights that loving, same-gender couples can’t access.”
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released in October found that 69 percent of Texas voters support some form of relationship recognition for same-sex couples. The support was the highest since regular polling on the same-sex relationships began in 2009.
Anchia said the growing support for marriage equality among Texans shows the need to remove the amendment, adding that the national momentum for marriage equality could help this be the year Texas repeals its amendment.
“I think our chances for success are better than they ever have been,” he said. “As opinion changes, it can and should be represented in the Legislature.”
Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said all the bills demonstrate a shift in public and political opinion toward equality.
“I think the fact that legislation is filed is the big news,” he said. “This starts the process.”
Also this week, state Rep. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, filed legislation to allow same-sex couples to enter civil unions.
Smith said Hinojosa’s civil unions bill was assigned to the State Affairs Committee, where the other four bills will likely be assigned. The committee is conservative in both chambers, he said, so “they definitely will face an uphill battle getting out of committee.”
Hinojosa’s bill has received criticism from marriage equality opponents and LGBT advocates who want same-sex marriage, not civil unions.
Daniel Cates, regional director for GetEQUAL Texas, is against civil unions legislation.
“I don’t think it’s going to help us at all to have a separate but equal status,” he said.
But Smith said Equality Texas will continue to work with lawmakers to support bills like Burnam’s that would bring full marriage equality.
“Anything short of full equality is not good enough,” he said. “That being said, progress is progress.”
Cates said the amount of relationship recognition legislation is “indicative that Texas is right along with most of American and has evolved.” He said LGBT advocates need to push for lawmakers to support the legislation now that it exists with protests and by calling and writing their lawmakers.
“It really means that our work became harder because now there’s something to fight for,” Cates said. “It’s our time to stand up and finish the fight. I think marriage equality is going to come to Texas a lot sooner than people in our community think it will.”
GetEQUAL TX plans a rally at 7 p.m. on March 25 at the Legacy of Love monument in advance of when the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Windsor v. United States, the case challenging the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and the Prop 8 case challenging California’s marriage amendment, on March 26 and 27.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 15, 2013.