Liberty Institute, on behalf of Chisum and Staples, asks Texas’ high court to take gay divorce cases

Kelly Shackelford

The right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute has filed briefs asking the Texas Supreme Court to hear two same-sex divorce cases so justices can resolve allegedly conflicting opinions from state appellate courts in Austin and Dallas.

The Liberty Institute announced today that it filed the briefs on behalf of State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a former state senator from Palestine.

In both cases, district judges ruled to allow same-sex divorces, prompting Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott to intervene. In the Dallas case, the 5th court of appeals overturned Democratic Judge Tena Callahan’s ruling. J.B., the gay Dallas resident who’s seeking a divorce from his Massachusetts marriage to H.B., appealed the decision to the Texas Supreme Court in March.

In the Austin case, State of Texas v. Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, the 3rd court of appeals upheld the district judge’s decision, saying Abbott’s attempt to intervene was too late.

“The district judges’ rulings granting same-sex divorces illegitimately overturned the will of more than two million Texans and their elected officials,” Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford said in a press release. “The debate over same-sex marriage and divorce should play out in our democratic institutions and should not be short-circuited by activist judges.”

The Liberty Institute previously filed a brief on behalf of Chisum and Staples in the Dallas case when it was before the appeals court.

Read a copy of the Liberty Institute’s brief in the Dallas case here, and the Austin case here.

Austin-based attorney Jody Scheske of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which is representing both J.B. and Naylor/Daly, declined to comment on the briefs.

—  John Wright

Gilbert, Staples square off for ag commissioner

Democratic challenger supports gay civil unions; Republican incumbent sponsored Texas’ gay marriage ban

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert
Todd Staples, left, and Hank Gilbert

Many LGBT people in Texas may not see the race for agriculture commissioner as a top priority. It’s not an office usually associated with having much impact on LGBT issues.

But there are clear differences this year between the two candidates when it comes to LGBT issues.

Todd Staples, the Republican incumbent, is a former state senator who co-sponsored the state’s ban on same-sex marriages when he was in the Legislature.And earlier this year, the agriculture commissioner joined with State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, to file a brief in the court case in which two gay men married in Massachusetts and had filed for divorce in Texas.

On the other hand, Hank Gilbert, the Democrat challenging Staples, has issued supportive statements on a wide range of LGBT issues, including full support for same-sex civil unions with all the rights and benefits marriage.

“Hank Gilbert has been a friend of our community for years,” said Dan Graney, president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus. “For somebody from Tyler, Texas, I am absolutely amazed at how open and supportive of our community he is.”

In a recent telephone interview, Gilbert himself said that he has never supported same-sex marriage, “but I would support it if it were put on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. I think it should be on the ballot.”

Gilbert also criticized Staples for “taking time away from the job he was hired by the people of this state to do [as agriculture commissioner] to file a brief on a case about two men who want to get divorced. That has nothing to do with his agency. He is just trying to get support from the right-wingers.”

Graney said that while the office of agriculture commissioner is “not particularly relevant to LGBT people … Hank could make a real difference in that office with his ability and willingness to hire people in his office who would be pro-equality. He is gone clearly on the record as being pro-equality himself.”

Gilbert confirmed that as ag commissioner, he would enact a nondiscrimination policy in hiring that would include LGBT people.

“Would I discriminate in hiring based on sexual orientation? Hell no! Two of my current staffers are openly gay,” Gilbert said. “I am going to hire people who are qualified and who I feel can do the job that I and the state require of them. I could care less what color or religion or political persuasion or sexual orientation you are.”

Gilbert did disagree with Graney, however, on the question of whether the agriculture commissioner’s office is important to LGBT people.

“This job is important to everyone in Texas. We are charged with making sure the food you put on your table is safe. [Staples] has been terrible at that. We have these constant outbreaks of e coli, and there was the incident in Plainview where that salmonella-tainted peanut butter got out and killed three people,” he said.

“This agency is also charged with making sure that all instruments in the state measure accurately — gas pumps, scales at the produce counter, scales at the pawn shop. This isn’t being done, either,” Gilbert added. “These are all important to consumers in Texas, no matter what your sexual orietation is, or your religion or your ethnic background.”

Neither Staples nor any spokesperson for his campaign returned calls seeking comment for this story.

Dallas County Republican Party Chair Jonathan Neerman and Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas President Rob Schlein also did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

While Todd Staples worries about gay divorce, cotton, hay, sweet potatoes, peanuts decline

Todd Staples
Todd Staples

Hank Gilbert, the Democrat who’s challenging Republican incumbent Todd Staples in the race for Texas Agriculture Commissioner, is publicly questioning Staples’ involvement in a same-sex divorce case in Dallas. In a statement posted on his campaign Web site yesterday, Gilbert said:

“I can’t for the life of me figure out what this has to do with agriculture. The last time I checked, marriage and divorce played absolutely no role whatsoever in the price of cotton, sorghum, or corn. One would think Todd Staples would focus his energies on actually improving agriculture in Texas, but instead, he’s focused on yet again bashing the LGBT community and their families in an effort to shore up his erosion in his right wing base. I’m sick and tired of politicians masking their terrible job performance by using our citizens as a punching bag.”

Gilbert, who’s from Whitehouse, issued a comprehensive policy statement on LGBT issues, called “Equality for All,” when he planned to run for governor. He switched to the agriculture commissioner race after Bill White declared for governor. Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman in the primary. While “Equality for All” stops short of explicitly endorsing same-sex marriage, it comes pretty darn close. It proposes repealing Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and allowing civil unions that give gay and lesbian couples the same privileges and protections as heterosexual couples. Gilbert’s policy statement, which was later adopted by gubernatorial candidate Farouk Shami, also proposed legislation banning anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, insurance and public education.

Staples’ office hasn’t returned phone calls seeking comment about his involvement in the same-sex divorce case. Staples, from Palestine, and State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, filed a brief opposing the divorce with the help of the right-wing, Plano-based Liberty Institute. Staples’ involvement in the case presumably stems from the fact that he co-sponsored Texas’ bans on same-sex marriage when he served as a state senator.

Yesterday I suggested that right-wing politicians in Texas are showing signs of backing away from gay-bashing, because they’re afraid it may come back to haunt them. I also called for pro-LGBT politicians to go on the offensive. Perhaps Gilbert was listening:

“I’m not sure what benefit Todd Staples will get aligning himself with a right-wing think tank that sued the state of Alaska to stop an investigation into former Governor Sarah Palin’s abuse of power, but one thing is clear: Texas agriculture doesn’t benefit from this at all. While Todd Staples worries about gay marriage, Texas food security is at stake. When Texas produces less crops, that means we have to import them from other states or even other countries. Staples needs to be doing something about shrinking agricultural production and what that means for food safety, not filing briefs in a bunch of lawsuits that don’t involve him or his department. Finally, there’s the basic issue of human decency. It’s time Todd Staples stop bashing LGBT Texans. Todd’s already been a critical player in denying equality to LGBT Texans, why continue to demonize them?”

—  John Wright