BREAKING: Accord reached on Pastor Protection Act, guaranteeing religious freedom and marriage equality

Texas-CapitolA bill reaffirming the rights of clergy to refuse to perform marriages — including same-sex marriages — that violate their religious beliefs has passed in the Texas House on a bipartisan vote, after its sponsor reassured legislators clergy may only refuse to perform those marriages in their official capacity.

SB 2065 passed 141-2 after questions about whether clergy members who also serve as county clerks, justices of the peace or in other government capacities may deny licenses to same-sex couples, interfaith couples and other couples they may find objectionable.

In a moving statement before its passage, openly lesbian Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-El Paso, commended the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, for carrying it. She told the floor she believes LGBT justice and religious freedom may coexist.

Despite rumors that Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, intended to try and attach his anti-gay HB 4105 to Sanford’s bill as an amendment, the amendment never came. HB 4105 would have withheld pay from county clerks issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It died last week without coming to a vote.

—  James Russell

Rep. Israel releases statement on HB 4105

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Rep. Celia Israel

Rep. Celia Israel, who worked tirelessly to kill HB 4105, the only anti-LGBT bill to make it to the Texas House floor, released a statement moments after midnight:

“I am relieved that the Texas House was not forced to entertain a mean-spirited, divisive bill that could keep us from doing the work our constituents sent us here to do: make the lives better for the people of Texas. This bill dying means that many of my Republican colleagues will not be forced to choose between party loyalty and standing on the right side of history. This bill dying means that same-sex couples across the state will not be forced to witness their elected representatives debate if their love is as worthy as their neighbor’s.

“When a member opposes one of your major pieces of legislation or speaks against you during committee, we all try to not take it personally.  This body will not always agree on how to best serve this state. But when a colleague attacks your family just for being who you are, it is impossible to not take it personally. My family, and the millions like it, took this bill very personally. I am hopeful that this bill is the final vain attempt to push back against the wave of change across our country. Texans are ready for marriage equality, and I look forward to hearing the wedding bells.”

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: HB 4105 dies after failing to meet House hurdle

texas-capitolA bill that would have barred county officials from issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples died in the House this morning (Friday, May 15).

“The Preservation and Sovereignty of Marriage Act,” HB 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, was filed ahead of an anticipated summer Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality. It had the support of 91 of the 98 members of the House GOP, more than any other piece of legislation explicitly targeting the LGBT community.

House opponents, including many Democrats, were united in opposition to the bill, utilizing a process known as chubbing to slow the legislative process.

 

—  James Russell

UPDATE: Child welfare religious discrimination amendment pulled but bill remains

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Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney.

An amendment to an agency’s sunset bill deemed harmful by various LGBT advocacy groups was pulled by its author.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, attached the amendment to HB 2433 by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite. Similar to his HB 3864, it would have allowed child welfare providers to discriminate against LGBT people as well as those of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons

HB 3864, however, is still scheduled for a floor vote.

According to the ACLU of Texas, that would weaken the state’s child welfare system by potentially further shrinking the pool of qualified parents who can provide a safe, loving home for children.

Despite the fact that reparative — or conversion — therapy been resoundingly discredited by most health care professionals, Sanford’s amendment would authorize child welfare service providers to force LGBT minors into such programs to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

HB 3495 by Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, which would bar the practice, has not been scheduled for a hearing.

Other measure targeting LGBT Texans has already passed key hurdles in the Legislature. Today is the last day HB 4105, which would bar public officials from granting or recognizing marriage licenses for same-sex couples even if the Supreme Court overturns the state’s ban on such unions, qualifies for a House. If it fails to receive a vote before midnight it will be considered dead according to House rules.

SB 2065, which deals with clergy performing marriage ceremonies, passed the Senate this week on 21-10 vote. Its companion bill, HB 3567, also by Rep. Sanford, scheduled for a House vote today.

—  James Russell

UPDATE: 90 of 98 House GOP support bill against issuance of same sex marriage licenses

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This post has been updated throughout to reflect additional co-authors.

Ninety of the 98 members of the House GOP have signed onto a bill that would bar the issuance of same-sex marriage licenses, more than any other piece of legislation explicitly targeting the LGBT community.

A vote is scheduled today (Tuesday, May 12) for HB 4105, known as “The Preservation and Sovereignty of Marriage Act,” by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia. It would preempt an anticipated summer Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality.

37 co-authors and a joint author have signed on since Monday, April 27. Recent coauthors include last minute hold outs Reps. Rodney Anderson of Irving, a co-author as of yesterday (Monday, May 11) and J.D. Sheffield of Gatesville, a co-author as of Friday, May 8. Additionally Reps. Giovanni Capriglione of Southlake, Byron Cook of Corsicana, Charlie Geren of Fort Worth and Brooks Landgraf of Odessa, who have earned the ire of arch-conservative groups, have signed onto the bill.

University of North Texas Associate Professor of Political Science Matthew Eshbaugh–Soha said legislators could have any number of reasons to sign onto the bill.

In general, “I suspect this was a deal, either pushed by the sponsors of the bill (please support this and I will support you later) or interest groups (who have found the time and resources to attract support),” he wrote via e-mail. “Knowing the facts behind which bills can help to tell which particular story is the right one.”

Of the eight remaining Republican legislators whose names are absent, there is no single ideological reason; they range from Tea Party Republicans to the more traditional business-friendly Republicans – the latter of whom are more likely to steer clear of discriminatory legislation.

For instance, Empower Texans and others back Rep. Craig Goldman of Fort Worth, while other legislators have earned their ire. They include Dallas County Reps. Jason Villalba and Linda Koop, both of Dallas, and Morgan Meyer of Highland Park. Other missing signatories include Reps. Sarah Davis of West University Place, Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi and John Smithee of Amarillo. The final Republican, House Speaker Joe Straus, neither authors nor sponsors legislation and also abstains from voting.

HB 3567 by Rep. Scott Sanford comes in a near second with 83 signatories, including three Democrats. That bill is also scheduled for a vote today. Reps. Goldman and Smithee are among its co-authors.

Its companion SB 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, reasserts a clergy member’s right to refuse to perform a marriage that is against their religious beliefs.  It passed the Senate yesterday, on a 21-10 vote with Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, joining all Republicans. It is scheduled for a final procedural vote today.

—  James Russell

UPDATE: Bill protecting clergy from performing same sex marriages passes Senate 21-10

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Sen. Craig Estes, R- Wichita Falls, authored SB 2065.

SB 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, which would protect clergy members from performing same-sex marriages passed 21-10.

The ACLU, Equality Texas and Texas Freedom Network advocated for language that a clergy member may only refuse to officiate marriages that violate their conscience “in that official capacity” failed. Despite their efforts Estes refused in both the State Affairs committee hearing and on the floor to add the language.

Without the four words, they argued, faith leaders may be able to deny same-sex marriage licenses if they serve in a secular capacity, such as justice of the piece or county clerk.

Proponents, including numerous conservative faith leaders, argued the bill was necessary to protect their right to deny performing a same-sex marriage.

“The First Amendment already protects clergy from being forced to officiate religious ceremonies that violate their consciences, so it’s unnecessary to pass a bill to protect against this,” said Sarah Jones, a communications associate with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “But if a member of the clergy accepts a job as a public official, they have a duty to uphold the laws of the state and municipality in which they serve, and should treat all people equally and fairly.

The bill’s passage comes ahead of a summer Supreme Court hearing on marriage equality.

The Senate will make one final procedural vote tomorrow (Tuesday, May 12) when the House votes on its companion, HB 3567 by Rep. Scott Sanford. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, previously said he intends to sign the bill.

—  James Russell

Please, Texas Legislature, please literally get out of my private life

11053437_10203727216931427_7578301496571722454_oAllow me to vent.

Oh my God, y’all.

I can’t stand it anymore.

The Texas Legislature won’t get out of my private life.

No, really.

I mean, I can’t get away from them.

Just a few weeks ago I went into the fucking grocery store and thought I saw Sen. Don Huffines. I get back to my apartment and see the damned Huffines car dealership logo on every other neighbor’s car.

When trying to escape the freshman senator’s clutches I drive past the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine and the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth and think about Rep. J.D. Sheffield., an osteopath. As I crack open a beer, hoping to escape the freshman Dallas senator’s clutches, I then swear I see Sen. Bob Hall! (Well, OK, I’m bound to see him if I’m watching The Walking Dead.) Just last week, I said “Jane Nelson Mandela” instead of “Nelson Mandela.” Those two are NOT the same, folks. I see Dennis Bonnen in the wildest of places – well, ok, I really don’t have a problem with that.

Sometimes in all my insomnia and delirium, I ask myself “what would Lois Kolkhorst do?”

To which I imagine she’ll say, “Have a life.”

Sine die, folks.

—  James Russell

Bill barring issuing of same-sex marriage licenses passes pivotal House committee

Texas-CapitolA bill in the Texas House that would bar county and state officials from issuing same-sex marriage licenses passed in committee today (Wednesday, April 22) on a 7-3 vote with Reps. Farrar, Giddings and Turner voting nay.

HB 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, states state or local funds may not be used for an activity that includes the licensing or support of a same-sex marriage even if an anticipated Supreme Court decision strikes marriage equality bans across the country. It was heard before the State Affairs committee on April 8. The committee substitute bill considered on the April 8 hearing can be found here and the final substitute, voted on today, here.

It will now head to the Calendars Committee.

 

—  James Russell

Powerful GOP Rep. Byron Cook supports supplemental birth certificate bill

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State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook, R-Corsicana.

State Affairs Chairman and Republican Representative Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, voiced his explicit support today (Wednesday, April 15) for legislation that would allow same-sex couples and legal guardians of a child to receive a supplementary birth certificate reflecting both of their names.

Cook’s announcement came following Dallas Democrat Rep. Rafael Anchia’s moving speech in support of the bill, HB 537.

“I want everyone to know I support [the bill] too,” Cook said after asking for Anchia’s comments to be included in the House’s written record.

The move was a milestone for the bill that has languished in the House for the past three sessions. Cook chairs the powerful State Affairs committee, which recently heard comments for and against the bill. He is also a close ally of House Speaker Joe Straus.

Cook expressed skepticism to opponents of the bill during a March 18 State Affairs committee hearing, telling one opponent he “struggled” with her opposition to the measure, according to the Texas Tribune.

“That’s a terrible indictment on one group to be real honest with you,” Cook told conservative legislative analyst Julie Drenner with the group Texas Values during the hearing.

You can watch Anchia’s moving speech and Cook’s statement below.

—  James Russell

To RFRA or not

Religious liberty bills promise freedom, but for whom?

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JAMES RUSSELL  |  Staff Writer

In a 1989 decision, Employment Division v. Smith, involving two men who were fired for smoking peyote as part of a sacred Native American ritual and then denied state unemployment benefits, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated a lower court ruling declaring that the two were not fired out of religious bias but because they violated state drug laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court returned the case to the Oregon Supreme Court to decide if a state could deny unemployment benefits to a worker fired for using illegal drugs for religious purposes? The Oregon Supreme Court ultimately sided, in a 6-3 decision, with Oregon’s Employment Division.

That ruling concerned both secular civil libertarians and those with deeply held religious beliefs, said Elizabeth Oldmixon, an associate professor of political science at the University of North Texas in Denton. A broad coalition then worked with Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

That bill, said Oldmixon, told the Supreme Court that in such cases, to give the benefit of the doubt to the plaintiffs, not the government.

Among the groups in that earlier coalition was Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a nonpartisan educational organization that preserves church-state separation.

Today that group is actively involved in debate over state versions of religious freedom restoration bills popping up in legislatures across the country, primarily in response to court rulings legalizing same-sex marriage and an upcoming decision from the U.S. Supreme Court expected to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.

The first RFRA to pass and be signed into law this year came in Indiana. Gov. Mike Pence signed that bill on Thursday, March 26.

Sarah Jones, AU’s communications associate, said the federal RFRA “passed as a shield to protect religious minorities, such as non-theists, Muslims and Jews. It strikes a balance between religious expression and the federal government’s interest in enforcing laws.”

But the federal law soon fell under scrutiny again, when the Supreme Court again struck down a portion of the 1997 Boerne v Flores ruling, said Chicago Kent College of Law Professor Sheldon H. Nahmod. That case asked whether or not the city of Boerne, Texas could prevent a Catholic church from expanding because of historical landmark and preservation laws. The court ruled for the church.

Striking RFRA’s application to state and local governments left only the federal application intact, Nahmod explained. Then another act of Congress resulted in the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, signed by President Clinton in 2000.

That ruling set a precedent for another Supreme Court ruling, however.

In 2012, Hobby Lobby, the national arts and crafts chain, sued the federal government over a provision in the Patient Protection and Affordable  Care Act requiring employers to provide contraception coverage. Hobby Lobby v Burwell claimed covering contraception was a violation of the chain’s owners’ religious beliefs under the RFRA.

In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby.

What conservative groups praised about the ruling, others panned.

At the state level
If one term could sum up the dispute between the two factions in the battle over state religious freedom laws, it’s “broad.” In the Burwell case, the term means either an unconstitutional overreach or a victory for religious liberty.

Supporters of current religious liberty bills, said Jones, “claim they just reaffirm what the federal bill already says. That isn’t true. These state level bills are written much more broadly and contain discriminatory provisions that aren’t present in the federal bills.”

She said additionally the Hobby Lobby decision ultimately “granted special privileges. One of the most common ‘special privileges’ is allowing small businesses the right to discriminate against customers, such as same-sex couples.”

But Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, author of the Texas bill — HJR 125 — disagreed. Krause, a lawyer, interprets the federal RFRA much like Oldmixon or Jones. In written answers emailed to him, Krause said the federal RFRA “walks that fine line by asserting that the federal government can only burden the free exercise of religion (or conscience) if it has a compelling interest in doing so and it’s done in the least restrictive means possible. It gives citizens a cause of action to challenge the actions of government in these certain contexts.”

The bill, if enacted, he wrote, would codify in the state Constitution the state’s current religious freedom act, which passed in 1999.

In its current state, according to the Texas Freedom Network, the Texas RFRA bars measures that “substantially burden” the free exercise of religion. In addition, it includes other carefully crafted language that has helped avoid unnecessary lawsuits while providing various remedies and ensuring that the law is not abused. It currently mirrors the federal RFRA.

Passage of HJR 125 would change nothing, according to Krause.

“All I am trying to do is give our Texas RFRA constitutional protection,” he wrote. “There were efforts to make Texas’ RFRA language constitutional as far back as two sessions ago. It’s important to remember this is not a reaction to recent events … before we had any instances of bakers, florists or photographers. The intent was by no means an ‘intent to discriminate’ or ‘license to discriminate’ but rather good policy that has served Texas well for over a decade and it deserved constitutional protection.”

Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, is convinced that bills like Krause’s and its Senate companion, HJR 10 by Sen. Donna Campbell, are discriminatory.

“It reminds me of people of color not being served. It’s an overall sad state of affairs, especially given the advances of LGBT workplace equality,” she said by phone.

After signing Indiana’s religious freedom bill into law amidst backlash from a wide variety of groups, Gov. Mike Pence asked that state’s legislature to assure discrimination against LGBT people will not be allowed. But, if Krause and others said discrimination is not their intention, are activists wrong about the RFRAs?

Chicago Kent’s Nahmod said it’s difficult to tell if these pieces of legislation are motivated by anti-LGBT animus.

“Indiana doesn’t have a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance,” he said, and while it could be argued signing the RFRA was a last-ditch push to prevent passage of a statewide nondiscrimination ordinance, that can’t be proven.

“But if discrimination is the intention, then they may be seriously unconstitutional,” Nahmod said.

But Berry disagreed.

“It’s naïve to say Pence’s decision to sign the bill was not motivated by discrimination,” she said. “Whether [these bills are] intentionally meant to discriminate or not, it’s clear the LGBT community needs a federal nondiscrimination ordinance,” she said. “We have state and city nondiscrimination ordinances [but] we still need a federal law to protect LGBT people.”

……………………

Religious liberty bills currently under consideration in the Texas Legislature include:

• HB 3567 by Rep. Scott Sanford. Would prevent the government from punishing a clergy member  or person of faith who does not perform same-sex marriages.

• HB 3864, also by Rep. Sanford. Would allow child welfare organizations to deny care to children of LGBT parents based on religious beliefs. Sen. Donna Campbell filed its Senate companion, SB 1935.

• HB 3602 by Rep. Cecil Bell. Would bar retaliation against “conscientious objectors” who refuse to perform same-sex marriages. SB 1799 by Sen. Larry Taylor contains similar language.

• HB 55 by Rep. Jason Villalba and SJR 10 by Sen. Campbell. Would allow Texas’ businesses to refuse service or deny employment to LGBT people based on individual’s or religious organization’s beliefs. Villalba has since said he would reconsider his resolution, but Rep. Matt Krause filed the identical HJR 125 late on March 12.

• HB 2553 by Rep. Molly White. Would allow business owners to decide whom they serve or conduct business with based on religious convictions.

• HB 1355 by Rep. Matt Shaheen. Would make it a criminal offense for an elected official to threaten, punish or intimidate a person based on the person’s religious beliefs.

— James Russell

 

—  James Russell