The 84th legislative session could have been a disaster for the LGBT community. But equality managed to dodge any number of Republican lawmakers’ bullets in 2015.
Texas was not immune to the Republican wave election ushering numerous arch-conservatives into office across the country. Democrats ran a slate of LGBT allies for numerous statewide seats only to be crushed. Gubernatorial candidate state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth fell to former Attorney General Greg Abbott and lieutenant governor candidate state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio lost to right-wing state Sen. Dan Patrick. Other rabidly anti-LGBT former legislators, including Ken Paxton — who was fined for securities fraud but still elected attorney general — Sid Miller — who won the ag commissioner’s seat — and others, joined them in taking control.
A Republican Party already divided between two competing ideological factions now had more control than ever. Even after the elections, the Texas House faced another election: the first recorded vote for Speaker of the House in 30 years.
The intra-party battle between the Tea Party and the GOP Establishment fizzled fast. Despite a year-long campaign for speaker, Rep. Scott Turner of Frisco garnered only 19 votes to more moderate incumbent Speaker Joe Straus’ 127.
After that battle was over, another began. By the time the pre-filing period ended, legislators had filed about 40 bills targeting the LGBT community, ranging from measures allowing businesses to discriminate based on religious beliefs to jailing transgender individuals who use bathrooms according to their gender and criminalizing those living with HIV.
Molly White, the freshman Republican representative from Belton, found her bills dead on arrival. Others, however, gained traction through a combination of political skill and situation and worry over the pending Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.
Surprisingly enough, the legislative session wasn’t a disaster for LGBT Texans.
Bills introduced by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, which would have barred county employees from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, had the support of a majority of House Republicans and almost passed the House. But opposing legislators managed to run out the clock on a crucial deadline, ultimately killing that bill and others.
In the end, opponents of LGBT equality only got a last-minute resolution in the conservative state senate affirming “traditional marriage” (read: not same-sex marriage).
On the flip side, many bills benefitting the LGBT community were introduced, and one — which would allow a same-sex couple to include both parents on the supplemental birth certificate — even passed out of committee with bipartisan support. Unfortunately, it too died because it failed to meet a crucial deadline.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 1, 2016.