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

House GOP caucus endorses Straus for speaker; LGBT community breathes sigh of relief

Although more conservative factions in the state had been calling for the ouster of Rep. Joe Straus as speaker of the Texas House, the House Republican Caucus today endorsed Straus — known as a moderate Republican — for the seat.

Rep. Joe Straus

That news comes as something of a relief for LGBT advocates who had feared that someone further to the right would be chosen as speaker and given the chance to control the legislative agenda. Back in November, Reps. Warren Chisum of Pampa and Ken Paxton of McKinney both announced they were running for speaker. Chisum has long been known as one of the most anti-gay members of the House, routinely introducing and/or supporting bills on such topics as preventing LGBT people from becoming foster or adoptive parents. Chisum also was the primary author of the constitutional amendment passed in 2005 to ban same-sex marriage in Texas. Paxton was a co-author of the amendment and also voted in favor of banning LGBT foster and adoptive parents.

Among those fighting the hardest to defeat Straus’ bid for another term as speaker were leaders of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum, who had warned lawmakers the group would base half its score for legislators on who they supported for speaker. Others who have been outspoken in opposing Straus are Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford, Heritage Alliance President Richard Ford and Texas Eagle Forum founder Cathie Adams.

And in December, The Texas Observer reported that John Cook, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, said he was campaigning against Straus — who is Jewish and attends a synagogue that supports LGBT rights — because, “I got into politics to put Christian conservatives into office.” Cook also accused Straus of being pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

The Houston Chronicle reported today that 70 of the 100 lawmakers attending the House Republican Caucus meeting today voted to back Straus for speaker. The Chronicle report noted that the caucus vote is non-binding but “virtually guarantees Straus’ re-election Tuesday when the Texas Legislature opens a new session.”

—  admin

If one of these nutjobs defeats Joe Straus for House speaker, we could be in deep doo-doo

Rep. Joe Straus is shown alongside Rep. Senfronia Thompson after being elected speaker in 2009.

If Rep. Joe Straus is ousted as speaker of the Texas House, it’s safe to say it will not be a good thing for the LGBT community. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, confirmed the obvious yesterday when he told us the statewide gay-rights group is sincerely hoping Straus can hang on to his post.

One of Straus’ challengers, Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa, is among the biggest homophobes in the Texas Legislature. Chisum was the primary author of Texas’ 2005 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and he’s also been behind efforts to outlaw gay foster and adoptive parents.

Another candidate for speaker, Rep. Ken Paxton of McKinney, who entered the race this week, doesn’t appear to be much better than Chisum on LGBT issues. Paxton was a co-author of the marriage amendment and voted in favor of a ban on gay foster parents in 2005.

Straus, meanwhile, voted in favor of the marriage amendment — not to do so might have been political suicide  — but he did not sign on as an author. He also voted against the gay foster parent ban, which was actually killed by socially moderate Republicans like himself. Straus attends a gay-affirming synagogue that performs same-sex marriages in San Antonio. Read more about all that here.

But if you really want to know why we should be pulling for Straus to remain speaker, all you have to do is consider who’s behind the effort to oust him. It’s a who’s who of nutjobs, and they’ve all signed an open letter posted on the website of Empower Texans. Prominent signatories include people like Kelly Shackelford, president and CEO of Plano-based Liberty Institute; Richard Ford, president of the Heritage Alliance; and Cathie Adams, founder of the anti-gay Texas Eagle Forum. Any of those names ring a bell? The list goes on and on, but the bottom line is that if these groups are successful in ousting Straus, we’ll be at much greater risk of anti-gay legislation in the 2011 session. And with a two-thirds Republican majority in the House, our best and only defense may be distractions like redistricting and the budget shortfall.

According to its website, Empower Texans is conducting its anti-Straus campaign under the guise of fiscal conservatism. But since Straus is pretty darn fiscally conservative, we suspect there are other motives. Surely these right-wing groups don’t like the fact that Straus was elected speaker two years ago thanks to support from Democrats, which he continues to enjoy. They also don’t like the fact that he’s socially moderate — on abortion, immigration and yes, gay rights.

The speaker of the House is arguably the most powerful position in state government, and right now, Joe Straus may be the LGBT community’s best friend in the Texas Legislature. That being said, we aren’t sure there’s much the the community can do at this point to help Straus hang on to the post, except maybe pray.

—  John Wright