Sanford amendment, HIV bill dead but crucial marriage equality vote set for today

texas-capitolTwo pieces of legislation opposed by many LGBT advocates died yesterday, Tuesday, May 26. But marriage equality opponents in the Legislature have one more chance to play political batting practice with same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses before the session ends.

SB 779, by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and sponsored by Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, is dead. It would have allowed prosecutors to obtain the medical records of defendants with HIV if it is believed the defendant intentionally used their status as a weapon. Advocates for those with HIV and AIDS called the it akin to HIV criminalization.

After a political tug of war, another amendment opposed by LGBT advocates died. McKinney Republican Rep. Scott Sanford’s amendment that would have allowed child welfare organizations, including those with state contracts, to discriminate against LGBT families and children was pulled before it could make a vote.

But one bill still has LGBT advocates on edge.

On Monday, May 25, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, inserted language in HB 2799 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, that would bar county officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The language placed  is similar to HB 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

Committee members, including Democratic Sens. Jose Mendenez of San Antonio and Sylvia Garcia of Houston, objected, saying it and other language was inserted without their knowledge.

It will be voted on today in the Senate.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Anti-marriage-equality language revised in Senate committee

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Sen. Eddie Lucio II, D-Brownsville.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, has inserted language into a House bill that would bar county officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

According to Quorum Report, Lucio added the language during a committee hearing on HB 2977 by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. The move largely flew under the radar.

It is similar to HB 4105 by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, that died before reaching a key vote. After its defeat he said previously he would find another way to insert some form of HB 4105 as an amendment to another bill.

The amended version now heads to the Senate floor for a vote, making it the first record anti-same-sex marriage vote this session but will face a hurdle in the House. Coleman is one of the House’s top LGBT allies.

—  James Russell

UPDATE: Sanford files ‘Indiana-style RFRA’ amendment for child welfare organizations

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Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, pre-filed an amendment once again allowing child welfare organizations, including those with state contracts, to discriminate against LGBT families and children.

This is Sanford’s latest attempt to allow 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.

After his bill, HB 3864, died, he initially filed it as an amendment to SB 206, by Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Mesquite, reauthorizing the Department of Family and Protective Services. That attempt failed after a representative killed it via a technical tactic. He also failed again to attach it as an amendment on Sunday, May 24.

In an action alert Equality Texas called it a cynical “Indiana-style RFRA for child welfare service providers that allows tax-payer dollars to be used to deny services to LGBT families.”

Additionally opponents have raised concern it would weaken the pool of qualified applicants and authorize child welfare service providers to force LGBT minors into widely discredited “reparative therapy” programs to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.

—  James Russell

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