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

BREAKING: Paxton allows clerks to refuse marriage licenses on religious grounds

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton

Following Friday’s historic Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, the state’s top law enforcement officer said county clerks and other officials may refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on religious grounds.

“It is important to note that any clerk who wishes to defend their religious objections and who chooses not to issue licenses may well face litigation and/or a fine. But, numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights,” Paxton wrote in his opinion. You can read the full statement here.

The opinion released today (Sunday, June 28) comes following a Thursday, June 25 request for an opinion from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Both have stated their opposition to marriage equality and other LGBT issues.

—  James Russell

More from Decision Day in Fort Worth: Celebrating at Celebration Community Church

Photos by Cassie Quinn

—  Tammye Nash

Marriage Equality Decision Day in Fort Worth

Here is a gallery of photos from the Tarrant County Clerk’s office from Friday morning, June 26. Photos by Cassie Quinn.

—  Tammye Nash

Texas Lege ends, now the fun begins; “bought and sold” series returns

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The Texas Capitol, site of a future “American Horror Story” season.

After staving off the threats of ISIS at the border, struggling with the godlessness of pre-kindergarten education and failing to save the evil Speaker Who Doesn’t Believe in the Messiah, the 84th legislature’s snake charmers finally went back home yesterday.

On the bright side: Per the state’s Constitution, they passed a budget. And their mighty efforts to slash taxes resulted in successfully saving the average homeowner…$200-something in property taxes.

Just as important, they’ve stopped screwing with your lives! Any legislation harmful to the LGBT community was thwarted!

The bad part: They’re now back home. They’re among us.

In the 84th tussle to burn the biggest effigy, LGBT advocates can happily claim a number of wins. The Romeo and Juliet bill made it to the floor for a vote after receiving bipartisan support in committee; religious discrimination language targeting LGBT children and families was defeated; and county clerks will not be barred from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But your valiant warriors worked to assure us they did indeed accomplish something. Enough, in fact, that those accomplishments won’t fit on a post card: the Senate passed a last-ditch resolution re-asserting their support for “traditional marriage” (as in, between a man and a woman, at least in the daylight); they found more ways to regulate uteri; and of course they gutted serious ethics reform legislation.

With such great accomplishments, now it’s time to watch the little substance of this past session turn into campaign fodder — or for many Republican incumbents who’ve earned the tea Party’s ire, liabilities.

I can’t wait to write about upcoming election cycle. I’ll continue to follow the money, reviving my “Bought and sold” series on dark money, campaign finances and right-wing boogeymen.

Bring it, 2016.

Or, if strictly speaking in presidential elections, 1992.

—  James Russell

BREAKING: Bell’s HB 4105 resurrected as an amendment, to be voted on as soon as tomorrow

Bell-Cecil

Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia.

Texas state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, intends to attach an amendment similar to his previous bill barring the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples to a bill protecting clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages during a House floor vote on Thursday, May 21.

Bell filed HB 4105, also known as “The Preservation and Sovereignty of Marriage Act,”  ahead of an anticipated summer Supreme Court ruling legalizing marriage equality. It would have withheld pay from county clerks issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. After its defeat last week, Bell told reporters he wasn’t giving up on it.

Though an amendment must be considered germane to a bill, Equality Texas reports that Bell intends to attach HB 4105 to SB 2065, which passed the Senate last week on a 21-10 vote with all Republicans and one Democrat voting for it.

While HB 4105 died before it could get a vote, it garnered  support from the majority of the House HOP caucus.

During the debate over SB 2065, 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.” Despite their efforts Estes refused in both the State Affairs Committee hearing and on the Senate floor to add the language.

Without the four words, opponents argued, faith leaders may be able to refuse to perform same-sex marriage if they serve in a secular capacity, such as justice of the peace 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.

—  James Russell

Rick Perry to New Hampshire audience: Keep on farmin’ in the free world

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Freedom fighter and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Do you remember the good old days? When government didn’t get in the way of good ol’ Texas wheat farmers selling their product to Soviet Russia? Before the era of big government was over — unless you were in the banking industry? Before that closeted Communist President Jimmy Carter lead a boycott against the 1980 Moscow Olympics over its invasion of Afghanistan?

No?

The half-dozen young people listening to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry talk yesterday (Thursday, April 16) in rural New Hampshire probably don’t either.

Thankfully for Perry, who is mulling his second presidential bid, most of the attendees at his “youth summit” were geriatric.

At Milford High School, Perry said that former President Jimmy Carter’s boycott of the 1980 Olympics was devastating for business if you were a wheat farmer, like Perry was – and for the kids.

“Remember 1979?” Mr. Perry asked the audience. “Remember where we were in 1979? No. 1, we were at 20 percent interest rates. Our kids were boycotted from going to the Olympics. President Carter made that decision. He didn’t let our wheat to be sold to Russia. I know. I was a wheat farmer.”

But Carter just didn’t kill business. As an advocate for youth around the world, Perry said he’s mad because the 1980 boycott killed so many young athletes’ dreams.

“These are kids who in some cases had spent their entire lives working to go represent America,” he said. “To use them as a tool, I think was in particular bad judgment, and I don’t think it had a bit of influence.”

After addressing the Most Pressing Issue of the Day, Perry bounced back from his 2012 campaign blunder. This time he remembered all three of the government projects he’d abolish: Common Core, No Child Left Behind and, of course, Obama’s ruthless reign of healthcare terror.

Since Texas can’t secede from America, he told the crowd, let’s make America become Texas. Perry touted his economic record in the state, dubbed the “Texas [$7.25 an hour] Miracle.” Watch me make the Texas Miracle into the American Miracle, he declared. Under President Perry, you too will be able to sell your wheat and take your ice skates to Russia.

Evoking a song by that other famous Canadian (the one not running for president), President Perry basically told the crowd: under me, you’ll be farmin’ in the free world.

—  James Russell

Study shows support growing for marriage equality, especially in marriage equality states

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Evan Wolfson

A new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute shows that fears that eliminating state bans on same-sex marriage will create a backlash against marriage equality and LGBT people are in accurate. In fact, the study indicates, getting rid of those bans usually accelerates acceptance of marriage equality.

Evan Wolfson, president of the national marriage equality advocacy organization Freedom to Marry, said the study “confirms that marriage wins are a self-fulfilling engine of support. Once  the freedom to marry comes to a state, people see families helped and no one hurt, and support surges.”

Wolfson added that the study results “solidly debunk opponents’ desperate efforts to conjure up the specter of an impending ‘backlash,’ and undersore the unfairness of depriving people in the remaining 13 states” — including Texas — “of the informed choice that the end to discrimination provides. Once the Supreme Court brings an end to the exclusion from marriage in the states still left out, we can expect support to grow rapidly there as well — a true win-win.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments April 28 in marriage equality cases from four states in the 6th Circuit — the only federal circuit appeals court to rule against marriage equality since the SCOTUS ruling in U.S. v Windsor in June 2013, in which the court struck down portions of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Supreme Court last fall refused to hear appeals of circuit court rulings in favor of marriage equality, creating an immediate jump in marriage equality states from 19 to more than 30.

The study shows that since 2004, public support for marriage equality has increased in every state in the U.S., with an average increase of 2.6 percent per year. Public support for marriage equality has increased more rapidly since 2012, jumping up to an average of about 6.2 percent per year. But in the last year, the most rapid rate of increase in support happened in states that already legally recognize same-sex marriage.

“Indeed, legal recognition of marriage for same-sex couples has been followed by more rapid increases in public support,” the study notes.

If current trends continue, by 2016 public support for marriage equality will be at least 40 percent in every state, with six states above 45 percent and the remaining states at between 50 percent and 85 percent in terms of support.

“America is ready for the freedom to marry,” Wolfson said. “The Supreme Court can now do the right thing, knowing that not only history, but the public today, will vindicate a ruling to end marriage discrimination leaving no state and no family behind.”

—  Tammye Nash

Indiana Repubs admit anti-LGBT discrimination is legal


Despite Gov. Mike Pence’s insistence that Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is all about protecting religious freedom and not about discriminating against folks, two Indiana lawmakers have admitted that even without the RFRA, businesses in their state can legally post “no gays allowed” signs.

Raw Story reports that Indiana Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, acknowledged that because the state has no law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, such discrimination is legal in most parts of the state.

The admission came during the two lawmakers’ press conference  during which they said they plan to “clarify” that the RFRA doesn’t allow businesses and individuals to deny service to LGBT people on religious grounds. But one reporter pointed out glaring lack of protections:

“You guys have said repeatedly that we shouldn’t be able to discriminate against anyone, but if you just ignore the existence of this law, can’t we already do that now? Can’t so-and-so in Richmond put a sign up and say ‘No Gays Allowed?’” the reporter asked. “That’s not against the law, correct?”

Bosma admitted that unless the local community has a local ordinance protecting LGBTs such discrimination would, indeed, be allowed, and when pressed further by the reporter, he admitted that most areas of the state have no such ordinances.

The fact of the matter is, the same is true in Texas. Unless you are lucky enough to live in a town or county that has passed a non-discrimination ordinance prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination, if you are LGBT, you have no protections because there is no statewide nondiscrimination law that includes LGBTs. AND, even worse, Republicans have introduced bills in this current legislative session to negate such local ordinances that already exist and prohibit the passage of any such local ordinances in the future.

Maybe folks need to boycott our state, too. Maybe then the Republicans will pull their heads out of their asses.

Watch the Raw Story video above.

And in more Indiana RFRA news, Duke University — whose men’s basketball team is headed to Indianapolis for the Final Four — has joined the NCAA in speaking out against the law, according to Human Rights Campaign.

Duke, the University of Kentucky, Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin are headed to Indianapolis this weekend for the final three March Madness tournament games, including the championship game. Wisconsin and Michigan State both released statements relating to the passage of the bill but Duke is the only Final Four contender to publicly come out against RFRA.

Michael Schoenfeld , Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations said in a statement issued Monday (March 30), that “Duke University continues to stand alongside the LGBT community in seeking a more equal and inclusive world, and we deplore any effort to legislate bias and discrimination. We share the NCAA’s concern about the potential impact of the new law, and will be vigilant to ensure that our student-athletes, supporters, and indeed all citizens and visitors are treated fairly and with respect.”

 

—  Tammye Nash

Twitter joins rising chorus of business voices against RFRA, other anti-gay legislation

In an “@Policy” Tweet today (Monday, March 30) hailed by Human Rights Campaign as a “bold move,” Twitter today declared its disappointment not just with Indiana’s newly-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 9.21.42 PMwith the flood of similar bills and other anti-LGBT legislation being considered across the country.

The Tweet read: “We’re disappointed to see state bills that enshrine discrimination. These bills are unjust and bad for business. We support #EqualityForAll.”

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to sign into law last week his state’s RFRA was the spark that lit a flame of outrage among some of the country’s leading businesses, including Apple, PayPal, Wal Mart, Yelp, Salesforce and Indiana’s own Angie’s List, officials of which last Friday (March 27) — the day after Pence signed the RFRA — announced they had decided to at least delay, if not cancel, plans for a $40 million expansion of its Indianapolis headquarters.

But in applauding Twitter’s tweeted statement today, HRC pointed out that Indiana’s RFRA is just one of more than 85 anti-LGBT bills under consideration in 28 legislatures, including Texas’, and in Arkansas a measure very similar to Indiana’s awaits Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s signature.

To see HRC’s list of pending LGBT legislation, go here. The bills fall largely into four categories: religious refusal bills, bills promoting conversion therapy, anti-transgender bills and bills nullifying local nondiscrimination statutes.

Texas lawmakers have introduced bills in three of those four categories: religious refusal bills, anti-transgender bills and bills to nullify local nondiscrimination ordinances. To see Equality Texas’ list of legislative alerts, go here.

—  Tammye Nash