Sen. Rodney Ellis asks DOJ to monitor Texas marriage equality

EllisTexas state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston,  wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and asked her to monitor implementation of marriage equality in the state.

Ellis cited state Attorney General Ken Paxton’s guidance to county clerks, justices of the peace and judges “advising them that they can refuse to follow the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodge.”

He requested the Department of Justice prevent civil rights violations to “ensure loving, committed couples are able to formally celebrate their union.”

He said religion must not be used as an excuse to discriminate.

—  David Taffet

Houston senator to DOJ: assure same-sex couples get marriage licenses


State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, urged the U.S. Department of Justice today (Monday, June 29) to assure same-sex couples in Texas are not prevented from getting marriage licenses.

His request follows an opinion issued by Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, yesterday allowing county clerks and other government officials to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples because of their religious beliefs.

You can read Ellis’ letter here.

—  James Russell

Diverse coalition speaks out against numerous anti-LGBT bills at Capitol


Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City.

Texas lawmakers and the head of the Texas Association of Business joined with civil liberties organizations today (Tuesday, April 7) at a press conference warning against numerous bills filed this year that promote discrimination against LGBT Texans.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, say they are worried about at least 20 bills that would allow, promote or even require discrimination against LGBT Texans.

“These bills allow people to be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, denied public services the rest of us take for granted, and even turned into criminals simply because of who they are and whom they love,” Ellis said. “The Texas I love is better than that. This debate isn’t about businesses not serving someone they might object to, as that minimizes the seriousness of what’s at stake here.”

They also voiced concerns over two bills that they say would burden taxpayers, businesses and the LGBT community.

Currently three resolutions would expand the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Legislature passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in 1999, is sufficient. Like the federal RFRA, it protects religious liberty from government overreach while including provisions to ensure that civil rights protections against discrimination aren’t undermined.

All 20 proposed bills in Texas this year, on the other hand, are unnecessary for protecting religious freedom and would allow, and sometimes even require, discrimination or harm to others, Ellis said.

Rep. Anchia warned that the proposed bills would undermine or even sweep away nondiscrimination ordinances put in place in major cities across the state, including Dallas and Fort Worth.

“By undoing these protections, the Legislature would be sending a message that local control isn’t as important as some of my colleagues have long said that it is,” Anchia said. “They would be saying to the rest of the country that discrimination against our neighbors, our friends, our family members is more important. My own city and many others across the state have decided against that kind of discrimination, and the Legislature shouldn’t undermine our cities’ economic well being or our citizens’ civil liberties.”

The message to the rest of the country particularly concerns business leaders, said Bill Hammond, chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business.

“Either of these two amendments would bring the same backlash to Texas,” Hammond said. “They also would lead to potentially enormous litigation costs, hurt our efforts to attract businesses and tourism dollars that keep our economy growing, and make it harder for employers to enforce laws and company policies barring discrimination against their workers and customers. Texas is a magnet for new businesses, talent and visitors. This legislation would immediately threaten our solid brand.”

Reached by phone, Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Fort Bend County, urged activists to keep the pressure on legislators.

Among those legislators is Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, who authored HJR 125 and spoke with the Voice last week about the legislation.

Reynolds said Krause and others “are hiding behind a smoke screen. They may say discrimination is not the purpose of the bill but we also saw that with the debates over voter ID laws and the sonogram bill. They said those bills were about ‘voter integrity’ and ‘safety’ but they were really about voter suppression and closing down Planned Parenthood. They’re never gonna admit it but that’s what it is.”

“If so many people hadn’t read the bills in Indiana and Arkansas, then activists would’ve never turned it around until it was too late,” he said. “Grassroots activists and business were key to the outcry over both Indians and Arkansas’ bills. It’s imperative to stay informed.”

Sustaining the momentum against the bills could make Abbott and other legislators rethink their support of the legislation, Reynolds added.

“I don’t want to see Texas go down a slippery slope. I don’t see what happened in Indiana happen here, “ he said. “We’re a conservative state, but you can be conservative and not discriminate.

“Let’s not let this be a black eye on the state,” he said.

—  James Russell

What’s Brewing: Hearing today in suit over Perry’s day of prayer; parole fought for gay man’s killer

Several elected officials have joined the fight to keep Jon Buice behind bars for the 1991 hate crime murder of gay banker Paul Broussard, pictured.

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. A federal judge will hear arguments today in a lawsuit that seeks to bar Texas Gov. Rick Perry from promoting or participating in his anti-gay day of prayer on Aug. 6 in Houston. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics that contends the governor’s involvement in the event violates the separation of church and state. Meanwhile, it’s still unclear what Perry’s role will be in the day of prayer or whether he’ll speak at the gathering.

2. In any case, Gov. Perry appears to be sticking to his position that issues like marriage equality and abortion should be left up to the states under the 10th amendment. Perry said Wednesday that if Roe. v. Wade were overturned, he’d support allowing states to legalize abortion. Last week Perry said he’s “fine” with New York’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Both stances have landed him in hot water with social conservatives. “You either have to believe in the 10th amendment or you don’t,” Perry said. “You can’t believe in the 10th Amendment for a few issues and then something that doesn’t suit you, you say, ‘Well we really rather not have that state decide that.’”

3. Several elected officials from the Houston area have joined the fight to keep Jon Buice behind bars for the 1991 hate crime murder of gay banker Paul Broussard, The Houston Chronicle reports. Buice, who’s served 20 years of his 45-year sentence, was granted parole earlier this month and is set to be released sometime in October. But elected officials have joined Broussard’s mother, LGBT advocates and others in calling on parole commissioners to revisit their decision to release Buice. Those who’ve written letters to the the state parole board include Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos, state Sens. John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis, and state Reps. Jessica Farrar and Garnet Coleman. To submit your own letter opposing Buice’s release, go here.

—  John Wright

Coleman’s suicide prevention bill headed to governor’s desk

Texas state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat, announced Thursday night, shortly before 7 p.m., that the Texas House has accepted Senate amendments HB 1386, giving the bill final approval and sending it to Gov. Rick Perry’s desk for signing.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman

The legislation, authored by Coleman and fellow Democrats Reps. Jessica Farrar of Houston and Marissa Marquez of El Paso, is intended to help prevent youth suicide by allowing school districts to implement suicide prevention programs that help school officials recognize the early warning signs of suicide and to notify parents to intervene if necessary, according to a press release from Coleman’s office.

Coleman said, “I’m extremely proud of this bill. This is one of my most important legislative priorities. We’ve heard too many tragic stories of children and teenagers who have taken their own lives due to emotional distress. This loss of life can be prevented. It’s important that we let parents know of any early warning signs in their child’s behavior so that they can prevent a bad outcome. It is the parents who can best care for their children.”

Sen. Rodney Ellis, another Houston Democrat, has sponsored the bill in the Senate. He called the measure “a small step in the right direction to aid school districts in identifying and aiding those students who are at risk of suicide.”

—  admin

Texas Senate didn’t take up transgender marriage ban today — but may take it up on Tuesday

The Texas Senate adjourned today without taking up SB 723, the bill by Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, that could prevent transgender people from marrying people of the opposite sex in Texas.

SB 723, apparently prompted by the Nikki Araguz case, would remove a “court order of sex change” from the list of identifying documents that can be used to obtain marriage licenses in Texas. And while transgender people could still theoretically use their driver’s licenses to obtain marriage licenses, advocates say the “legislative intent” of Williams’ bill would allow courts to declare those marriages invalid. Moreover, they say the bill could effectively lead to the state refusing to recognize the existence of transgender people for any purpose.

“If SB 723 gets a favorable vote it will enshrine Littleton vs Prange (1999) logic — you are what the doctor put on your birth certificate — into Texas State law,” writes Meghan Stabler, a transgender woman from Round Rock who serves on the Board of Directors for the Human Rights Campaign. “This will lay the foundation for the State of Texas to cease to recognize the transitioned status of transgender people.”

The bill was on the Senate’s intent calendar for today, meaning it could have come up for a vote if two-thirds of the Senate agreed to consider it. While the Senate didn’t get to the bill today, it remains on the intent calendar, and advocates are continuing to ask people to call Democratic senators and ask them to vote against SB 723. Republicans are one vote short of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, meaning if no Democrats vote to take up the bill it will die.

Contact info for Democratic senators is after the jump.

—  John Wright