Back to school: Tax-free weekend is upon us

taxholidayhres1_11571106Every year, the state of Texas does at least one thing right: it gives Texas shoppers a break from local and state sales taxes in preparation for the upcoming school year. Granted this means malls are packed, your two-year-old gives new meaning the “terrible twos” and single, childless folks like me quiver at thought of even stepping out into the world. But hey, were I not that guy I sure would take advantage of it.

So here’s the skinny:

According to State Comptroller Susan Combs’ webpage, there are two categories of items exempt from sales and use taxes: most school supplies and then other items like clothing. For the ladder category, think, “Could my kid wear this to school?” If in doubt, check out the list provided by Combs’ office here. If an Internet business is engaged in business in Texas, purchases meeting the state’s standards apply.

For every $100 purchase, shoppers save between $8-$10. Keep in mind that there’s some fine print you can’t ignore though. Items need to be below $100, but there is no limit on overall purchases. Read the fine print here.

Happy shopping, y’all.

—  James Russell

Abbott a no-show at petition drop

AG delivery2Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee for Texas governor, was a no-show Monday when Equality Texas dropped off nearly 5,200 petitions demanding Gov. Rick Perry and Abbott drop their defense of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

“Despite the plans prearranged last week in which a staff member would meet us in the lobby and take possession of the petitions, the Attorney General’s office said they would only accept the petitions if they were mailed via an acceptable ground carrier,” wrote Chuck Smith in an e-mail.

Instead of giving up, the group headed to the nearby UPS store and mailed them. They’re expected to arrive today.

The action comes after the Feb.26 ruling earlier this year finding Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. Despite growing support for same-sex marriage both in Texas and nationwide, Abbott and Perry appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit of Appeals.

Abbott filed that appeal Monday, arguing that Texas was within its constitutional right to ban same-sex marriage.”Because same-sex relationships do not naturally produce children, recognizing same-sex marriage does not further these goals to the same extent that recognizing opposite-sex marriage does,” the brief reads. “That is enough to supply a rational basis for Texas’s marriage laws.”

Birds of a feather stick together.

—  James Russell

New report calls marriage equality in Texas a “gold mine”

domareact_0627met001A report released by the LGBT think tank Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law estimates that legalized same-sex marriage in Texas would give new meaning to the phrase “Texas Miracle.”

According to the report, if same-sex marriage was legalized today, wedding planning would bring jobs, tourists and lots of cash.

Of the state’s 46,000 same-sex couples, 23,200 would marry over the next three years, the report estimates. That means:

• Total spending on wedding arrangements and tourism by resident same-sex couples and their guests would add an estimated $181.6 million to the state and local economy of Texas over the course of three years, with a $116.2 million boost in the first year alone.”

• This economic boost would add $14.8 million in sales tax revenue to state and local coffers.

• Spending related to same-sex couples’ wedding ceremonies and celebrations would generate 523 to 1,570 full- and part-time jobs in the state

The study follows a federal ruling in February striking down Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage.

You can read the full report here.

—  James Russell

Vulture.com: Before visiting Texas, read this book

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If you’ve ever wondered what to read before visiting a state, Vulture.com, the online entertainment portal owned by New York Magazine, just made the list for you. In choosing 50 nonfiction books to read about 50 states, the website includes both national treasures like James Agee and Walker Evans’ Let Us Now Praise Famous Men (Alabama), Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on the Road (Florida) as well as some kitschier choices like Vice President Joe Biden’s Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics (Delaware).

Before even scrolling down, I assumed their choice would be kitschier, if not dismissive. (Think Rick Perry’s presidential manifesto Fed Up.)

Nope.

If you want to learn about Texas, Vulture.com suggests the groundbreaking Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza by the late Gloria Evangelina Anzaldua, a well-known Chicana lesbian activist and writer born in the Rio Grande Valley. Released in 1987, the semi-autobiographical book challenges and explores, through poems and prose, concepts like borders and identity.

If you’re interested, the book is available at Amazon.com and if you’re lucky, your neighborhood library.

—  James Russell

Tarrant County lesbian couple files for divorce

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A lot has happened this week in Texas regarding same-sex marriage and divorce.

A Tarrant County couple came out as straight friends hoping to help win the marriage equality fight in the state. And a judge prevented Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott from interfering a San Antonio couple’s divorce proceedings.

Now a Tarrant County couple has filed for divorce. Brooke Powell and Cori Jo Long married in New Hampshire four years ago. Powell’s attorney filed a petition to declare the marriage void, like it never happened. But the couple wants a divorce.

Under Texas law, same-sex divorce is illegal just as much as same-sex marriage or recognizing same-sex unions. However, back in February, a U.S. district judge declared Texas marriage law unconstitutional. The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex divorce cases in November. A ruling is expected by summer.

“I feel like since I was legally married, then I should be entitled to a divorce,” Long told Fox 4 News.

Watch Fox 4’s report below.

—  Anna Waugh

Springtown man indicted on federal hate crime charges for gay man’s assault

Brice-Johnson

Brice Johnson

A Springtown man who allegedly lured a gay man to his home through a social media app has been indicted on federal hate crime charges for the man’s assault.

Brice Johnson, 19, was indicted Wednesday on charges of kidnapping and “willfully causing bodily injury to a person because of the actual or perceived sexual orientation of that person,” according to a news release from U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas.

Johnson started chatting with Arron Keahey on the MeetMe app over Labor Day weekend. The two discussed sex and Johnson invited him over. When he arrived, Keahey was brutally beaten.

A criminal complaint back in February when Johnson was brought up on federal charges explains that Johnson put him in the back of a car and drove him to a friend’s house. Johnson’s friends later convinced him to take Keahey to the hospital, where he spent 10 days recovering from brain trauma and broken bones.

Johnson initially told Springtown police he found Keahey outside his house and took him to the hospital. He later told police he assaulted him after blacking out.

Johnson was originally charged with a state felony for aggravated assault.

In a recorded jail conversation to family, Johnson, who had Keahey listed in his cell phone as “fagg bagg,” said he invited Keahey over and it was “basically a joke that went too far and too wrong. I invited him over because he was a fag or whatever.”

The trial is set to begin June 20. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

—  Anna Waugh

Vigils planned across Texas for murdered Houston lesbian couple

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Four vigils are scheduled throughout Texas on Wednesday night to remember the lives of a Houston lesbian couple killed earlier this month.

Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson, both 24, were found in a trash bin near Port Bolivar on March 7. They’d been a couple for two years.

Cosby’s father, James Larry Cosby, was arrested for tampering with evidence in the case. He remains a suspect in the women’s’ deaths. Cosby’s mother told Houston media outlets over the weekend that her daughter’s father was upset she was gay, and she believed he killed them because of their sexual orientation.

Galveston detectives are still searching for a man who police believe was last seen with the women and information about the couple’s Kia Sorrento that was stolen. A $150 reward for information has been raised through a fund Dallas GetEQUAL TX activist C.d. Kirven started.

“We want to celebrate the way Britney and Crystal lived and not the way they died. They were a part of a community, an LGBT family that mourns their loss,” Kirven said about the vigils in a statement.

She said the Galveston vigil was canceled, and a Fort Wirth vigil  was added, along with vigils in Dallas, Austin and Corpus Christi.

Tiffani Bishop, co-state lead organizer for GetEQUAL TX said, “The tragic murders of Britney and Crystal are truly heartbreaking. To discover that Britney’s father is suspected of committing these crimes is difficult to wrap my head around. It is beyond time that our community begin an open and honest dialogue about violence against queer women of color.”

People attending vigils or who want to show support for the women’s memory are asked to wear yellow in the memory of Cosby and Jackson.

Other vigils are still being solidified, including one for Williamson County. GetEQUAL TX will update vigil information on its Facebook page.

Anyone with information about the case should call the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 866-248-8477 or Galveston County Crime Stoppers 409-763-8477.

Locations of the Texas vigils are below.

—  Anna Waugh

Lesbian couple files for divorce in Bexar County

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A San Antonio couple has filed to dissolve their 2010 D.C. marriage.

The couple, Allison Leona Flood Lesh and Kristi Lyn Lesh, filed for divorce on Feb. 18 after separating in July. Their case is the first divorce sought by a same-sex couple in Bexar County, according to the San Antonio Express-News.

Eight days after they filed, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage and its refusal to recognize out-of-state marriages is unconstitutional. But Garcia stayed his ruling pending appeal. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott later appealed the ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The case may be put on hold until the Texas Supreme Court decides whether to allow same-sex couples to divorce in Texas. The court heard arguments for same-sex divorce in the state back in November, when lawyers for an Austin couple, who were granted a divorce, and a Dallas couple, who were still trying to obtain one, argued that the state didn’t need to recognize the marriages to dissolve the unions since the state where they were married already recognized their unions as legal.

The court has yet to rule in the cases, but a decision is expected by summer before the court’s recess.

But the San Antonio couple wants the case to move forward because they are also battling for custody of their 13-month-old daughter. Flood, who hasn’t seen the child in six months,  wants to share custody, while Lesh doesn’t because her wife isn’t the girl’s biological or adoptive parent. The Austin couple also has a child, but the case didn’t deal with custody.

“This illustrates what Judge Garcia identified as (what) same-sex couples are deprived of,” Neel Lane, one of the San Antonio lawyers for the gay couples who sued the state over the same-sex marriage ban, told the San Antonio Express-News. “First, they are deprived of the benefits of an orderly dissolution of a marriage. Second, their children are denied the benefit of the many laws to protect their interests in the event of a divorce.”

The couple has a hearing on Thursday.

—  Anna Waugh

Mary Gonzalez leads in re-election bid after early voting

Gonzalez.Mary

Mary Gonzalez

Out state Rep. Mary Gonzalez will likely keep her House District 75 seat after early voting results gave her a strong lead Tuesday.

Gonzalez, D-El Paso, brought in 69 percent of the vote, compared to her only Democratic  challenger Rey Sepulveda, who received 31 percent of the early vote.

No Republican is seeking the office, so Gonzalez is sure to return to the state Legislature after final results come in.

She’s one of five openly gay state House candidates, but the only one with a contested primary.

Other out candidates are Celia Israel, who won the runoff in the special election to replace state Rep. Mark Strama in Austin and will face one Republican in the fall, and Denton’s Emy Lyons and Daniel Moran, who will both take on Republican incumbents.

Former state board of education member George Clayton is unopposed in his Democratic bid for HD 102, which covers parts of North Dallas, Richardson and Addison.

On the crowded Republican side, incumbent Stefani Carter came in second to former Dallas Councilwoman Linda Koop with 33 percent and 35 percent after early voting, so a runoff is likely.

Sam Brown received 28 percent of the vote with Adyana Boyne coming in last with 4 percent.

—  Anna Waugh

Out candidate Donald Brown leads in Southeast Texas congressional bid

Donald Brown

Donald Brown

Texas is on its way to having two out candidates for Congress after openly gay Donald Brown received enough votes to avoid a runoff after early voting results Tuesday.

Brown received 61 percent of the vote in his Democratic bid for Congressional District 14 and he could avoid a runoff if he maintains the strong lead.

Buck Willis, who received the local Stonewall Democrats endorsement, brought in 28 percent of the vote, with Gagan Panjhazari receiving 11 percent.

CD 14 spans Southeast Texas form Freeport to Beaumont. The winner will take on Republican incumbent Randy Weber, who’s unopposed in the primary.

Brown is one of two openly gay Texas candidates running for Congress. Louie Minor is unopposed in the Democratic primary for CD 31 in central Texas. He’ll face Republican incumbent John Carter in November.

—  Anna Waugh