‘Religious refusal’ one step closer to passing the Senate

Texas Freedom Network President Kathy Miller

The Texas Senate, which has already approved Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s ridiculous and discriminatory bathroom bill — SB 6 — today (Tuesday April 11) approved, on second reading, SB 522, which would allow Texas county clerks and other public officials and employees the right not to issue a marriage license or conduct, as part of their official civil responsibilities, a marriage ceremony to which they have religious objections.

The bill, introduced by Granbury Republican Brian Birdwell, still must pass the Senate on third reading before being sent to the House.

While the bill was obviously intended to let right-wing county clerks and other right-wing public officials defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling on marriage equality, as the Texas Freedom Network pointed out last month, the measure “would allow public officials to discriminate against virtually anyone.”

Today, TFN President Kathy Miller issued this statement after the Senate vote:

“The Senate under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s leadership has clearly become the center of intolerance and discrimination in Texas government. … [The Senate] today said it has no problem with public officials picking and choosing which taxpayers they will serve. This bill opens the door to taxpayer-funded discrimination against virtually anyone who doesn’t meet a public official’s personal moral standards. That means same-sex couples, divorced people, women who have children outside of marriage and many others could be treated like second-class citizens by the very people whose salaries they pay with their tax dollars. That’s discrimination, not religious freedom.”

Miller noted there are 17 so-called “religious refusal” bills that have been filed in this legislative session.

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, issued this statement:

“Religious liberty is an organizing principle of American democracy and the birthright of every Texan. Our constitution and state laws already protect that right. Redefining religious liberty will allow people to take advantage and claim that their religion gives them the right to ignore existing laws or not perform the duties of their job. SB 522 promotes taxpayer-funded discrimination and would allow for unequal treatment under the law. In the end, this is not about religious liberty; it’s about discrimination. A clerk or government official should not be exempted from their duties simply because they do not share another person’s religious belief.”

Today’s vote was 21-10. I haven’t found a breakdown yet telling who voted how, but at least one Democrat voted for the bill.

—  Tammye Nash

TEXAS MARRIAGE UPDATE: Equality Texas calls on DeBeauvoir to start issuing marriage licenses

Dana DeBeauvoir

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir

A day after a Travis County probate judge issued a ruling striking down Texas’ ban on legal recognition of same-sex marriages, Equality Texas today (Wednesday, Feb. 18) is calling on Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately.

But according to a spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, the county clerk will not issue those marriage licenses until she gets the go-ahead from the federal courts.

DeBeauvoir had previously said she was ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples as soon as the courts would allow. After Judge Guy Herman issued his ruling Tuesday, DeBeauvoir said she needed to meet with Herman and county lawyers to “find out if there is anything I can do [in terms of issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples]. Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking.”


Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith

But Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said today that Herman’s ruling makes marriage equality the law in Travis County. “The law in Travis County now allows for marriage equality. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us — on the right side of history,” Smith said.

The written statement issued by Equality Texas also noted: “Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.”

The spokeswoman in DeBeauvoir’s office, who identified herself as Angela Vallejo, said today that “nothing has changed” since the county clerk’s statement yesterday. “We have to wait for the federal courts” to settle the question, she said. “As soon as they approve it, I am sure we will begin issuing the licenses.”

Getting a license in Travis County

If — or rather, let’s say when — DeBeauvoir’s office begins issuing licenses to same-sex couples, here are a few rules you need to know:

• The Travis County Clerk’s Office is located at 5501 Airport Blvd. in Austin.

• The cost to get a marriage license is $81 if you pay cash, $84 if you pay with a credit card. Checks are not accepted.

• Both parties have to present a valid ID; both parties have to know their Social Security numbers, and both parties must be at least 18 years old. (Those under 18 must have a parent or guardian with them to give permission.)

• Marriage licenses expire 90 days after they are issued.

• Those obtaining marriage licenses have to wait 72 hours to get married, unless they have a waiver from the court.

The status of marriage equality in the courts

Herman’s ruling came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath is seeking to have her eight-year relationship to Stella Powell designated as a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer, and after her death, her siblings attempted to step in to claim her estate.

According to the Equality Texas statement issued today, Herman’s ruling finds “that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“Contrary to [DeBeauvoir’s] position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County,” the statement declares.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it.” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Herman’s ruling yesterday came a year, to the month, after U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled in federal court that the Texas same-sex marriage ban violates the U.S. Constitution. Garcia declined plaintiffs’ request late last year to lift the stay on that order and allow same-sex marriages to begin in Texas. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on that case and two others — one from Louisiana and one from Mississippi — on Jan. 9, and could rule in that case any day. Plaintiffs in the Texas case last week asked the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay allow gay and lesbian couples to begin marrying in Texas right away.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments on four marriage equality cases out of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in April, and to issue a ruling in June. The court is widely expected, as this time, to strike down all same-sex marriage bans in the U.S.



—  Tammye Nash

Join the discussion, join the battle to end discrimination

Marriage equality efforts are getting the lion’s share of the headlines these days: Texans wait on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on marriage equality in The Lone Star State (and Louisiana and Mississippi), and the nation waits for the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the question once and for all.

But as the LGBT community makes great strides toward marriage equality, hundreds of thousands of LGBT people in the U.S. daily face the very real threat of discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and more.

Today (Monday, Jan. 26), LGBT equality groups nationwide began holding public awareness events, including launching an online discussion using #discriminationexists, to shine a light on the fact that so many hardworking people still do not have basic legal protections from discrimination.

(You can follow the discussion at DiscriminationExists.org.)

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 4.55.51 PM

Here in North Texas, and across the state, community leaders took the chance today to speak out against discrimination, issuing a call to action to LGBTs and their supporters in all areas and in all walks of life to join the fight for real equality,

Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas: “The Texas I believe in is a land of opportunity and freedom, where people who work hard and meet their responsibilities have a chance to get ahead. Clear protections from discrimination would help ensure that all Texans, including those who are gay or transgender, have a fair opportunity to earn a living, meet their obligations, provide for themselves and their families and build a better life. Changing the law won’t end all unfair treatment overnight. But it provides one more tool to ensure that all Texans are treated fairly and equally.”

Cece Cox, chief executive officer at Resource Center: “Discrimination exists against LGBTQ people at many levels. We have no statewide protections in areas like employment and public accommodations, and even in those few cities where protections exist, some state lawmakers want to see those protections removed. Texans overwhelmingly support fairness and equal opportunity for all people.”

Lou Weaver, trans outreach specialist for Texas Wins: “We have been talking about same-sex marriage for a long time in the U.S. We need to also think about basic rights for everyone: ‘Can I get a job? Can I find a place to live?’ Transgender people are still facing discrimination at high rates, and we need to take an honest look at our policies. We need access to basic fairness and equality in order to survive. That is what this is about, living our lives and having access to the same opportunities as everyone else.”

The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School: “Faith leaders of every background believe that everyone is created with God-given dignity. Our faith calls upon us to speak out for everyone’s dignity and security in the work they do, and for full access to housing. No one in our country should live in fear of losing their job or being denied fair housing just because of who they are.”

Todd Whitley, board chair for Hope for Peace & Justice: “It is hard to imagine any person being able to enjoy a sense of peace on their job or entering a public accommodation if that person has no assurance they won’t legally be discriminated against because of who they are. Sadly, this is exactly the reality for gay and transgender people in our state, -a grave injustice that must be resolved so that we can all enjoy the same opportunities without fear of legalized discrimination.”

A recent poll found that 9 of out 10 voters think that a federal law is already in place protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination. Unfortunate, that is not true. There is no federal nondiscrimination law, and here in Texas, there is no state law either. We remain vulnerable in so many areas.

But Equality Texas officials say their organization is working to change that, partnering with business leaders, faith leaders and community members to put the necessary protections in place.

Toward that end, Equality Texas is holding three advocacy days, beginning Feb. 17 with Faith Advocacy Day in Austin. More than 225 faith leaders and members of clergy and 65 first responders in Texas have signed on to publicly demonstrate their support for nondiscrimination already.

Visit EqualityTexas.org to find out what you can do to help.

—  Tammye Nash

Texas media outlets highlight problem of anti-LGBT workplace discrimination

Trans woman Lisa Scheps tells her story of anti-LGBT job discrimination to Austin’s Fox 7. Watch the full report below.

For the first time I can recall, non-LGBT media outlets in Texas are reporting on the fact that it’s perfectly legal for employers here — and in about 30 other states for that matter — to fire someone just for being LGBT. Which is critically important because, as Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith tells Austin’s Fox 7, 80 percent of the public wrongly believes that LGBT people are already protected against employment discrimination. Again, just to be clear, we’re not. Except in Austin, Dallas and Fort Worth — which have city ordinances — you can legally be fired in Texas just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Coincidentally, Fox 7’s story highlighting transgender woman Lisa Scheps’ story of workplace discrimination aired on the same day that Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, filed SB 237, which would ban anti-LGBT employment discrimination statewide. Equality Texas’ Daniel Williams says it’s the first time a version of the bill has been filed in the Senate, where one Republican at least, Dallas Sen. John Carona, told Dallas Voice recently that he would vote for it. The House version was again filed this year by Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, who’s also interviewed in the Fox 7 story. Even the Dallas Observer posted something about Van de Putte’s bill. The Observer says the bill’s chances of passage in the Republican-dominated Legislature are “almost zilch,” and that’s probably true, but just getting the media to report on it is progress.

Watch Fox 7’s report below.

—  John Wright

LEGE UPDATE: PolitiFact finds attack on birth certificate bill ‘mostly false’

A conservative group’s claims that a bill to allow same-sex adoptive parents to have both names on birth certificates would affect everyone’s records were mainly unfounded, according to research by PolitiFact Texas.

The nonpartisan politics fact-checking project analyzed claims Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz made on Austin’s KTBC-TV Nov. 19 about HB 201 filed by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Saenz said the bill would mandate a change in all birth certificates in the state, suggesting that the bill aims to grant gay couples special rights and would lead to two or three fathers listed on certificates in cases of polygamy.

But the bill would only apply to adopted children of same-sex couples, allowing both parents to have their names on the supplemental birth certificate. Texas law currently only allows one man and one woman to be listed on birth certificates, but the bill would remove that requirement from the Texas Health and Safety Code.

PolitiFact found Saenz’s claims “mostly false” saying the potential wording of forms remained unclear after they consulted with a State Health Services representative, who said it’s unknown whether “Mother” and “Father” would be replaced with “Parent 1” and “Parent 2” on forms for adopted children if the bill passes. Gender-neutral parent designation on birth certificates would raise the risk of distinguishing records for adopted children, which is prohibited under state law.

—  Dallasvoice

WATCH: Texas Values president attacks Rep. Anchia’s gay adoption bill

A bill that would provide accurate supplemental birth certificates to same-sex couples came under fire last night by Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz.

Saenz appeared on Austin’s Fox 7, speaking out against HB 201 filed by state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

Under the impression that the bill would mandate a change in all birth certificates in the states, Saenz suggested that his three children would have to have theirs changed. But the bill would only apply to adopted children of same-sex couples, allowing both parents to have their names on the certificate. Texas law currently only allows one man and one woman to be listed on birth certificates.

“In the state of Texas, homosexual adoption is allowed, so that’s not the issue here. The issue is that you have a small group of people that want to change a birth certificate for everybody else,” Saenz said. “This is an issue about what is natural and what is common sense. You have a mother and a father.”

—  Dallasvoice

Longtime assistant Chuck Smith named executive director of Equality Texas


Chuck Smith

The press release came in after we’d already stepped out the door for Black Tie Dinner on Saturday, but Equality Texas has named Chuck Smith as its new executive director.

Smith has served as interim executive director since August, when former ED Dennis Coleman resigned. Prior to that, Smith served as deputy executive director since 2005.

“It is always gratifying to look nationally and then select one of your homegrown to lead an organization,” said Anne Wynne, chair of the Equality Texas board of directors. “Chuck’s knowledge and experience will allow Equality Texas to start in high gear for the 2013 legislative session. No one is more passionate about working for LGBT equality in our state than Chuck Smith.”

Smith said in the release that Texas is on the cusp of change when it comes to public policies affecting LGBT residents.

“Public opinion continues to move in our direction,” Smith said. “We must work to ensure that public policy also moves in our direction. I look forward to working with and expanding our boards of directors to create the organizational capacity necessary for a statewide advocacy organization in today’s Texas of 25 million residents. Likewise, I am ready to take on the challenges of increasing our membership, as well as our political & electoral power, in order to enact real policy change. It will not be easy, but together we will make equality a reality in Texas.”

Smith’s appointment takes effect immediately, and he now has all of two months to prepare for the session. Good luck, Chuck.

—  John Wright

Equality Texas encourages people to thank Sen. John Carona for his support


Chuck Smith


That’s how the head of Equality Texas described a Republican state senator’s decision to come out in support of pro-equality legislation this week.

As we reported the other day, Sen. John Carona of Dallas backed three pro-equality bills on Monday in an exclusive interview with Instant Tea. Carona also said he was “evolving” but “not there yet” on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Chuck Smith, interim executive director of Equality Texas, said Wednesday that Carona is certainly the only GOP state senator in recent memory to endorse pro-LGBT legislation. Smith said two sessions ago, a Republican state representative who has since retired signed on to an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying bill.

“We’re thrilled to see him publicly take a stand in support of these issues and we really look forward to working with him on them in the session,” Smith said of Carona. “While we’re fully supportive and applaud what he said, we’ll watch now and see if he takes any blowback for it.

“He has broken the ice,” Smith added. “Whether or not he gets joined by other people, we’ll have to wait and see. It offers the opportunity to have a clear distinction between what it means to be conservative on fiscal and financial issues, and what it means to be conservative on social issues.”

Smith noted that regardless of whether Democrats pick up seats in the November election, Republicans will retain sizeable majorities in both the House and Senate.

“In order to be successful, all of our equality issues have to have bipartisan support,” he said. “Ultimately if we’re going to get anything done, there needs to be some cooperation and collaboration.”

Equality Texas also encouraged people to call Carona at 214-378-5751 and thank him for his support. If you’d rather write, Carona’s email is john.carona@senate.state.tx.us.

—  John Wright

EQTX pushes for Dallas County commissioners to approve DP benefits

Equality Texas is calling on Dallas County citizens and employees to tell members of the Commissioners Court to approve offering domestic partner benefits to county employees.

The statewide LGBT advocacy group created an action letter that people can sign online and send to commissioners.

Equality Texas Interim Executive Director Chuck Smith said offering DP benefits has become a standard practice.

“It’s what people in the real world, real businesses in the real world, do in order to attract and retain good employees to where it’s not a big step,” he said. “It’s not going out on a limb for municipalities and counties to start doing this.”

Dallas County would become the third county to approve the benefits after Travis and El Paso counties.

County Judge Clay Jenkins and Commissioner Elba Garcia are working on a plan to offer the benefits despite the lack of support from a regional government partner agency. A Commissioners Court vote is expected in the next few months.

—  Dallasvoice

BREAKING: Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman resigns

Dennis Coleman, who has served as executive director of Equality Texas for two years, resigned from his position with the organization, effective today, according to a press release.

Equality Texas announced his resignation and the beginning of a nationwide search for Coleman’s replacement.

In the meantime, Deputy Executive Director Chuck Smith will serve as interim executive director. Smith has served as deputy executive director since 2005, and previously served as interim executive director from February to August 2010.

Coleman was not immediately available for comment.

Before joining Equality Texas, Coleman served as executive director of Lambda Legal’s South Central Region, based in Dallas. Coleman lives in Dallas and commuted to Austin during his time leading Equality Texas.

Coleman, Dallas Voice’s 2011 Person of the Year, helped push through two anti-bullying bills during his first and only session of the Legislature. Although the bills didn’t include LGBT-specific protections, Equality Texas has called them the first two pro-equality bills to pass in Texas since hate crimes legislation in 2001.

Read Equality Texas’ full statement on Coleman’s resignation below.

—  Dallasvoice