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Bill to allow discrimination in adoptions and foster care passes the House

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

Under House Bill 3859, which advanced on a 94-51 vote, providers would be protected from legal retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children. The measure would allow them to place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refuse to contract with other organizations that don’t share their religious beliefs.

Rep. James Frank, the Wichita Falls Republican who authored the bill and an adoptive father, said repeatedly during a lengthy debate Tuesday that his legislation is not meant to be exclusionary but to give providers some certainty when it comes to legal disputes. He described opposition to the bill as “fabricated hysteria.”

“You can be successful, but it will cost you,” Frank said. “The bill declares a winner and says, ‘You are protected.'”

But Democratic lawmakers who lined up at a podium at the back of the House chamber to question Frank said the legislation would give religious groups license to discriminate against LGBT — or Jewish or divorced — parents who want to foster or adopt, or to avoid getting children vaccinated. A vast array of things could be classified as a “sincerely held religious belief,” they said.

“We’re further casting these children off,” said Rep. Jessica Farrar of Houston. “We’re making it more difficult for them to be adopted.”

See here for the background. The original sin here is the state accepting the idea that it’s okay for faith-based groups to treat children who don’t conform to their faith differently than those who do. By its very definition, it’s not acting in the best interests of the child, but of the providers, who last I checked were supposed to have the best interests of the child as their primary concern. And the “sincerely-held beliefs” dodge is just that, for as Chuck Smith said in that earlier story there are a lot of harmful beliefs out there. Remember this?

So check out the short exchange in the video clip above between Cohen and Becky Riggle, a pastor at Houston’s Grace Community Church. Riggle was testifying against [HERO], arguing that it violates the religious freedom of business owners and others in Houston who think LGBT people are sinful. If a business owner has the right to refuse service to LGBT people because the owner’s religious beliefs are offended, Cohen asks, then should business owners also be able to refuse service to other people — like, say, Jews — for the same reason?

Riggle, clearly realizing she’s trapped by her own argument, proceeds to trip all over her tongue in trying to respond. She ultimately suggests that yes, religious freedom would allow her to discriminate against Jews. But she insists “that’s not the issue” in the case of the Houston ERO.

Actually, that’s exactly what this is about — whether someone’s religious beliefs give them a free pass to discriminate against anyone they choose in civil society.

“Sincerely held” is not a synonym for “commendable” or “worthwhile”. This is a bad idea and it will be directly harmful to children who are already pretty damn vulnerable. ThinkProgress, the Observer, and the Chron have more.

Oh, and on a separate note, there was this:

A foster care bill in the House turned into a heated debate on vaccinations for children on Wednesday.

The bill from Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, is part of the state’s attempt to reform its foster care system. Wu’s House Bill 39, which won preliminary approval, would limit on the number of kids a Child Protective Services worker could supervise. It would also require speedy medical evaluations of children entering the foster care system.

Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington and vice chairman of the staunchly conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, authored an amendment to the bill that would have restricted doctors from including vaccinations in initial medical examinations for children. Zedler said children could be removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and then given an unwanted vaccination.

On the floor, Zedler told lawmakers that vaccines don’t protect public health and should not be considered an emergency medication. “The vaccination is only for that child to protect that child,” he said.

[…]

Zedler’s amendment had both Democrats and Republicans up in arms. Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place, attempted to change Zedler’s amendment to allow doctor’s to distribute a vaccine if it has been proven to prevent cancer. Davis, who has previously been an advocate for vaccinations, said she was “dumbfounded” that lawmakers would vote against preventing cervical cancer.

“My amendment empowers doctors to practice medicine,” Davis said during a testy exchange with Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano. “I think this is so important that we can eradicate cervical cancer.”

Leach said he was concerned that Davis’ amendment would revoke parental rights who do not believe in vaccination, and “rip that decision from the parents and the child and give it to the doctor.”

Emphasis mine. Zedler’s amendment passed, while Davis’ attempt to modify it was defeated. Here are the 2016 election numbers in Zedler’s district and in Leach’s district. Sure would be nice to have some better representatives in those two districts, wouldn’t it? The Trib has more.

House bathroom bill will not get a committee vote

Good news.

A proposal to gut cities and school districts’ trans-inclusive bathroom policies did not advance in the House ahead of a crucial deadline, nixing the measure’s chances of getting a vote by the full chamber. But that doesn’t mean that the issue itself is dead.

Up against bill-killing deadlines, the House State Affairs Committee on Monday did not act on House Bill 2899, which some were hoping would serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.” That means the proposal won’t reach the Calendars Committee, which sets the House’s daily agenda.

The proposal, by Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons of Carrollton, would have banned political subdivisions, including school districts, from enacting or enforcing policies to protect a class of persons if those aren’t already protected by federal or state law as applied to bathrooms, showers or changing facilities.

[…]

Thursday is the last day for most bills that started in the House to win tentative approval, and HB 2899 would have needed to clear the State Affairs Committee on Monday to even have a chance to get onto the House calendar. But the House adjourned on Monday with no plans for the committee to meet.

See here, here, and here for the background. HB2899 had gotten its committee hearing on April 20 but was left pending at that time. Maybe it didn’t have the votes to get out, maybe the committee gave in to business group pressure, maybe it just wasn’t enough of a priority for the committee. Whatever the case, this is a fitting end, though of course there will be efforts to attach the language to other bills as the session winds down. And just because this bill is on life support doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and puppies. There are still other anti-LGBT bills out there, such as HB3859 and its phony “religious freedom” legislation that could have all kinds of nasty consequences (and no, that is not far-fetched at all). Stay vigilant, it’s never over till sine die.

A happy ending

This was a long time coming.

When I first reported on this family a year ago, the boys – who had behavioral issues and delays likely stemming from abuse, neglect and being shuttled through foster placements – had just been removed from the loving women they called Mama and Mommy, and the stable home where they tended gardens filled with chickens, vegetables and butterflies.

Angela Sugarek and Carol Jeffery, Houston public school educators whose home was regarded as exemplary, had been deemed uncooperative by the Wharton Child Protective Services office after they repeatedly reported concerns, including suspected abuse by a teen half-sibling elsewhere in foster care whom the boys were required to visit.

The women fought in court to get the boys back. Seven weeks later, they did – but it was only supposed to be temporary. CPS continued to block adoption efforts and to shop around the boys and their sibling as a package deal. The mothers say that after my columns began running, CPS staffers who once praised their care began to nitpick and demean, at one point initiating an investigation about a pedicure one boy received on medical advice, and another time terminating their right to medical consent.

Then, suddenly, everything changed. Just as mysteriously as CPS staff had opposed the adoption by Sugarek and Jeffery, they consented to it. Maybe they realized the battle was futile.

“We weren’t going to stop fighting,” Jeffery said.

In this business, we live for happy endings. But like everything else in this saga, it didn’t come easy.

See here, here, and here for the background, and be sure to read the whole thing. I don’t have anything to add to what Lisa Falkenberg says. There are lots of problems with CPS, many of which we can blame on the Legislator and our Governor, and others that CPS itself is responsible for. This story was an example of the latter. It’s great that it all worked out in the end, but it shouldn’t have taken this long and it shouldn’t have been this hard or this frustrating.

The Sugarek/Jeffery family is back together

Wonderful news.

Seven weeks after Child Protective Services caseworkers removed the boys following their foster mothers’ repeated complaints about suspected abuse by an older sibling living elsewhere in foster care, a CPS supervisor brought them back.

The move followed a contentious court hearing and a series of private meetings in which the mothers say CPS never acknowledged an error but agreed it was best to return the boys to the home where they had flourished. A CPS spokesman declined comment.

[…]

In a series of meetings last week, Ketterman and the foster mothers say CPS told them an investigation found the teen had not abused the 3-year-old. They said CPS and the CASA advocate suggested the problem was miscommunication, even though the foster mothers had meticulously detailed every concern for months. At one point, Sugarek said, CPS suggested the anal injury may have been caused by pinworms. She found that ridiculous, saying Dion’s pinworms had healed months earlier after he came to live with them.

But the foster mothers agreed to disagree on the abuse and negotiated to have the children returned. Sugarek and Jeffery say they’re back on track to adopt the two boys and look forward to discussing that at a hearing next month.

Meanwhile, the boys will have only supervised visits with their older brother. The foster mothers say CPS has asked for help in finding a placement for the teen somewhere in the close-knit Heights community.

See here and here for the background. I was at Hogg for their end-of-year awards ceremony on Monday evening, and the first people I happened to see on campus as Olivia and I arrived were Carol Jeffery and the two boys. It was so awesome to see them together. As Lisa Falkenberg notes, the outpouring of support from the community was overwhelming, but Sugarek and Jeffery and the boys were ultimately very lucky. Far too many people, adults and children, don’t get this kind of happy ending from CPS. It sure would be nice if our state leaders cared more about that.

A personal story of CPS’ failure to protect children

I can’t begin to tell you how angry this makes me.

The new foster parents opened the door last September to a child they can only describe as feral.

At 3, he was obese, his brown saucer eyes shell-shocked, his chocolate skin pocked with a rash the CPS caseworker dismissed as eczema but a doctor later said was likely mites burrowing below. His shoes were two sizes too small, and he possessed one toy: a miniature motorcycle, broken.

He had but two words, not in his own tongue, but that of the previous foster placement in Wharton County. Más and luna, more and moon.

The boy – we’ll call him Dion – loved the moon. On a clear night, he would make his new foster parents stop the car to gaze at it. Maybe, in his young life – rootless, churning, abusive – the moon was the only thing standing still, safely out of reach of what was happening here on Earth.

Angela Sugarek and Carol Jeffrey would never know the horrors he’d seen. He didn’t come with photos, or a written history. Only violent outbursts and fear in his eyes where trust should have been.

More than anything, Sugarek and Jeffrey wanted to shield him from any more trauma. But this, they say, was the one thing they couldn’t do in a Texas foster care system where abuse is so rampant it was recently found unconstitutional by a federal judge.

The trauma would continue – according to interviews and a review of more than 100 court documents, emails and medical records – this time at the hands of the state.

From the beginning, it was clear Dion’s only chance at a future was a stable, loving home with parents willing to endure bites and black eyes, willing to turn their lives upside down to help him heal.

There’s a shortage of such homes, of such people.

But Dion hit the jackpot. Sugarek, 44, the charismatic principal of Hogg Middle School in the Heights, and her wife, Jeffrey, a 38-year-old science teacher at nearby Travis Elementary, had dedicated their lives to helping children. They had bottomless hearts, energy, education and tools.

A month later, they took in Dion’s 4-year-old brother – we’ll call him Darius – who was much more verbal, but also suffered from behavioral issues and PTSD. According to court records obtained last week, the boys’ parents had a history of family violence, and their mother was a drug addict. Their father has been charged with attempted capital murder. In a little over a year, they’d each lived in four different homes. Dion’s most recent was shut down for abuse and neglect, Sugarek said.

[…]

All the while, the foster parents arranged visits with a teenage half-brother- we’ll call him Bobby – who was also in foster care.

Knowing that CPS strongly prioritizes keeping siblings together, Sugarek and Jeffrey in October asked to increase the number of children they’d accept from two to three. They considered adding a room to their house.

But early on, they say, red flags popped up whenever Bobby was around Dion.

[…]

Texas has been criticized for not tracking child-on-child abuse. But the notion that CPS would actively discourage foster parents from reporting abuse, and even punish them for doing so, is beyond outrageous. Even for a broken system.

No doubt, the 15-year-old had survived his own hell. In 2008, one record shows, CPS received an allegation of sexual abuse involving Bobby and “an unknown perpetrator,” but the case was closed before the investigation started due to allegations being “too vague or general.”

When Sugarek and Jeffrey kept reporting incidents, and it became clear they would not agree to adopt the teen, they say CPS officials began “shopping the boys around” to other families and at an adoption fair.

This, despite glowing reviews about the boys’ care.

[…]

According to the foster mothers and emails they sent to the boys’ therapist, Dion at one point told one mom that Bobby had put something in his rear end that felt like marshmallows. He said Bobby had hurt him.

At mediation, with all parties at the table, the foster moms say they asked for an investigation. Again, denied.

Finally, the final straw. All three boys attended a CPS-supervised adoption fair earlier this month. When they returned, the moms say Darius told them Bobby had taken Dion to the bathroom for a long time. The 3-year-old complained his backside hurt. He wouldn’t let his moms wipe him. Days later, after a swim lesson, he bent down in the changing room, revealing a swollen rectum.

His foster mothers notified the therapist, and their private case manager, and they rushed him to the doctor. Medical records show the boy had an anal “abrasion” and irritated skin, but a forensic sexual assault test was inconclusive.

The foster mothers say they had a duty to report it to CPS, and they say their DePelchin case manager encouraged it, but she warned them: CPS would take the children.

She was right. Almost immediately, CPS announced it was moving the boys to a “respite” placement.

Read the whole thing. That action by CPS happened a few weeks ago. They’re still fighting to get Dion and Darius back. I know all four people involved. Sugarek is Olivia’s principal, Jeffrey was her fourth and fifth grade teacher, and I’ve met both boys since they first brought Dion home at the start of the school year. I’m furious that the system could fail in so obvious a way, and heartbroken for two good people who had gladly taken on a tough job and done so beautifully with it. I have compassion for CPS’ caseworkers, who have an impossible job themselves, and get no support from a state government that just doesn’t care. As angry as I am about the particulars of this case, it’s the indifference from the state, which is busy defending itself from lawsuits while piously proclaiming at every opportunity how much they value babies and human life. Don’t worry, kids, Dan Patrick will stand outside every bathroom you ever use to make sure nothing bad ever happens to you. Beyond that, though, you’re on your own. These tax cuts we’re going to pass next year won’t pay for themselves, you know, and we mustn’t go around throwing money at problems we’re not really interested in solving anyway.

SCOTUS upholds same-sex adoption rights

Awesome.

RedEquality

The U.S. Supreme Court in a victory for gay rights ruled Monday that states must honor adoptions by same-sex parents who move across state lines.

Citing the Constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, the justices in a unanimous opinion rebuked the Alabama Supreme Court for denying a lesbian’s right to visit the three children she had adopted and raised with her former partner in Georgia.

Last year, a divided Supreme Court said same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry in every state. But to the surprise of gay-rights advocates, the Alabama Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Roy Moore said in September that the woman’s adoption decree from Georgia was “void” and would not be honored.

Without bothering to hear arguments, the justices reversed the Alabama Supreme Court in an opinion that spoke for the full court.

The Alabama ruling “comports neither with Georgia law nor with common sense,” the justices said. “States may not disregard the judgment of a sister state because it disagrees with the reasoning or deems it to be wrong.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the decision resolves one of the key outstanding issues in the wake of last year’s marriage ruling. “Everyone was waiting and watching for this case,” she said. “This should be the end of it now that the Supreme Court has weighed in.”

While the court’s conservatives dissented last year and said states should decide the marriage laws, they agreed Monday that the Constitution requires states to recognize legal judgments from other states.

That’s the nickel summary. What’s important about this ruling, in addition to what it actually was, is that it was unanimous and it came without any oral arguments. SCOTUS didn’t need to hear what the state of Alabama and any of its supporters had to say for themselves to know that their actions were wrong. That’s about as strong a message as they could send, one that may be loud enough for the Texas Legislature to hear. Don’t get me wrong, so-called “religious freedom” bills are definitely going to be at the top of the priority list. But with this clear message from SCOTUS, the bad guys may be forced to rein it in just a little. ThinkProgress and SCOTUSBlog have more.

Transgender people can now get correct birth certificates

Excellent news.

Last week, Texas began giving trans people the option of sealing their old birth certificates and issuing new ones, according to Dallas attorney Katie Sprinkle.

Previously, Texas issued amended certificates and those were only issued with a surgeon’s letter. Now, Texas is sealing old records and issuing new birth certificates with a court order. That makes getting accurate documents earlier in the transition process possible.

The change is part of the Texas marriage equality ruling. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordered Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Bureau of Vital Statistics to issue corrected death certificates for same-sex couples acknowledging their relationship as “spouse” rather than significant other.” That affected inheritance.

As part of that motion filed by a Conroe, Texas gay man, Garcia asked the attorney if Texas was treating LGBT people differently than straight people on other documents. The attorney said birth certificates needed to be addressed.

As part of its update of birth certificates reflecting both adoptive parents or parents who used a surrogate, Texas updated its policy on reissuing birth certificates to trans men and women.

Since a court order can be used to prove a couple are both the parents of a child and should both be on a birth certificate, a court order will suffice for a trans person to use to get a new birth certificate reissued.

And since the original birth certificate in an adoption is sealed, the original birth certificate for a trans person will also be sealed.

See here and here for some background. You may recall that this issue nearly got Ken Paxton held in contempt, but in the end he folded and justice was served. A court order is still needed to get these updated birth certificates, and it may take a couple of weeks to go through. See a lawyer if this is something you might want or need to do.

Paxton asks to be excused from contempt hearing

He promises he’s been a good boy, so can he please come out of time out now?

Best mugshot ever

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office says he shouldn’t face a contempt hearing for failing to comply with the U.S. Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, and no longer needs judicial supervision to ensure he’s doing so.

In an advisory submitted on Monday’s deadline, the AG’s office assured U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that state officials have implemented new policies for issuing birth and death certificates to same-sex couples, and are processing all pending applications.

[…]

In Monday’s filing, assistant solicitor general Michael Murphy argued the hearing is no longer necessary, and objected to “the unprecedented threat of contempt” in the first place. Quoting Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Murphy suggested officials simply needed time to adapt after the high court “unsettled … a ‘millennia’-old definition of marriage.”

“Because the state is in full compliance with Obergefell and this court’s injunction and has granted the relief the intervenor sought, the State Defendants believe there is no need for the Court’s scheduled Sept. 10, 2015 contempt hearing or any continued Court supervision of the Department,” Murphy wrote.

Representatives from the AG’s office couldn’t immediately be reached for further comment.

Ken Upton Jr., senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said Tuesday he feels the threat of contempt was “a proportionate response to the unprecedented level of arrogance, impudence and non-compliance” with the marriage ruling on the part of state officials.

Upton added that while officials were adapting, the gay widower who sought an accurate death certificate, John Stone-Hoskins, was dying himself, and hundreds of same-sex couples were forced to go without accurate birth certificates.

“What they needed was the threat of going to jail and a good civics lesson in how our system works,” Upton said.

See here and here for the background. I don’t think there’s anything I can add to what Ken Upton said. I agree with him 100% – if Paxton hadn’t dragged his feet and just generally done everything he could to deny the reality of Obergfell, then maybe you could argue that a contempt hearing was a bit much. In this case, it was completely fitting and deserved, and it had the desired effect. Next time do your job without having to be coerced and you won’t have these problems.

Paxton will not be able to avoid a different court hearing, however.

Ken Paxton will have to appear in court this week, after the judge handling his securities fraud case denied the attorney general’s request to skip the hearing and send his lawyer instead.

Presiding Judge George Gallagher of Tarrant County on Monday denied Paxton’s request to forgo his Thursday arraignment. According to court filings, Paxton will plead not guilty that day to two first-degree felony charges and one third-degree felony charge of violating state securities laws.

“This is the judge’s decision. Attorney General Paxton has no problem with it and neither do I,” Paxton’s attorney Joe Kendall told the Chronicle on Monday.

OK then. Let’s get this show on the road.

Paxton gets a deadline

Better stick to it.

In an order late Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia also instructed Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office and the Texas Department of State Health Services to approve all pending applications for death and birth certificates involving married gay couples by that date.

The judge is holding both agencies to their word during a phone conference Monday that “the state and its agencies will be fully in compliance with (Garcia’s) final judgment that was issued on July 7th.”

[…]

The judge this week rescheduled a contempt hearing until Sept. 10, and it will take place if the state does not comply by Aug. 24.

See here, here, and here for the background. The Press, which profiles John Stone-haskins, the lead plaintiff in this action, fills in some details.

In a court hearing on Monday, Garcia noted that he kept getting the calls and emails and letters, all from people requesting the state recognize their marriages, too, according to Neel Lane, Stone-Hoskins’s attorney. (Lane is the same attorney who represented same-sex couples leading the legal fight against Texas’s gay marriage ban, which Garcia ruled unconstitutional; the Supreme Court took up the issue before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Lane’s case.)

So now, instead of every person fighting as Stone-Hoskins has, the state must draft a policy by August 24 that acknowledges same-sex couples’ rights to amend their certificates, a policy that will have to be approved by Lane. If the policy that the attorney general’s office drafts is satisfactory, Paxton’s contempt hearing, which was rescheduled for September 10, may be canceled.

“Once [Stone-Hoskins] got the death certificate and saw there were others who would be in the same position,” Lane says, “he didn’t want to leave them behind. He didn’t want to make the next person file suit. He committed himself to making sure that the state did something that would be more durable than just issue one death certificate and walk away.”

Good to know that Paxton’s surrender means this really is the end of the line, at least for this part of the fight. There will be a lot more things to fight about, at least until the losers are finally and truly marginalized. We’ll know for sure about this issue on August 24. The Trib has more.

State Health Services department finally amends that death certificate

Good.

Complying with a federal court order, Texas has issued an amended death certificate acknowledging a Conroe man as the husband of a same-sex spouse who had died in January. The men had been married in New Mexico in 2014, when Texas still banned gay marriage.

Shortly after the change was made Thursday night, state lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to cancel next week’s hearing on whether Attorney General Ken Paxton should be held in contempt of court for his agency’s role in prolonging John Allen Stone-Hoskins’ fight to be listed as the husband on his spouse’s death certificate.

Garcia ordered the document to be changed Wednesday, saying the state’s refusal to amend the death certificate violated his permanent injunction, issued in July, that barred state officials from enforcing Texas laws on gay marriage, including a ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Garcia issued the injunction shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all state bans on gay marriage.

In the same order Wednesday, Garcia directed Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Department of State Health Services, to appear in his San Antonio courtroom at 10 a.m. Wednesday to determine if they should be held in contempt of court for violating his injunction.

[…]

In a brief filed in Garcia’s court late Thursday, lawyers for the attorney general’s office urged the judge to cancel next week’s hearing, arguing that it would be inappropriate to hold Paxton and Cole in contempt of court.

A contempt finding would require clear proof that Paxton and Cole violated “a definite and specific order of the court,” the brief said. Garcia’s injunction, however, related to the right of same-sex couples to marry, not how a Texas agency should follow state regulations on issuing death certificates, the brief said.

“Whether a newly-recognized federal constitutional right is retroactive is a complex, fact-specific inquiry that is resolved in subsequent legal proceedings,” the brief said.

Requiring Paxton to appear at a contempt hearing is “particularly striking,” the brief said, because he was merely doing his job by providing legal advice to Cole’s agency.

“The attorney general has not refused to amend any death certificate,” the brief said. “There is absolutely no authority for the proposition that a constitutional officer of a state may be held in contempt for good-faith representation of a client in discharging his constitutional duty.”

Garcia’s decision to cancel Wednesday’s hearing could be influenced by an Austin man’s request to attend the hearing as an interested party. William Wallace’s attempts to amend his late husband’s death certificate for the past 1½ months also was rejected by state officials, his lawyer said.

See here for the background. Personally, I think Judge Garcia should go ahead and have the hearing. Paxton may have just been advising DSHS, but he was clearly giving them bad advice that gave them a way to deny John Stone-Hopkins’ rights, at a time when he didn’t have much time left to fight for them. He did the same thing with County Clerks after the Obergfell ruling, and while it wasn’t an outright call for resistance and in the end had little practical effect, the point is that he clearly has shown a lot of disrespect for the court’s ruling. I think he should have to explain himself in front of the judge, if only to ensure he doesn’t ever do this again.

And here’s why that lesson needs to be applied.

Ken Upton Jr., senior counsel for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia today that the Department of State Health Services continues to deny accurate birth certificates to the children of same-sex couples.

Upton and his clients, Susan Leigh Jorgensen and Robin Bass Jorgensen, plan to attend a hearing next week on a contempt motion against Paxton and Kirk Cole, the interim health department commissioner, over their refusal to issue an amended death certificate to John Stone-Hoskins listing him as the husband of James Stone-Hoskins. James Stone-Hoskins died in January after the couple married in New Mexico last year.

On Wednesday, Garcia ordered Cole to issue an amended death certificate to Stone-Hoskins, who has terminal cancer, and set a hearing for next Wednesday in San Antonio. Stone-Hoskins received the amended death certificate Thursday.

“While it appears the defendants have issued the specific corrected death certificate you ordered, they are by no means complying with the permanent injunction you entered against them in this matter,” Upton wrote in his letter to Garcia, adding that the state health agency has “steadfastly refused” to do so.

Upton said his clients, whose second child was born Aug. 4, were most recently denied an accurate birth certificate Aug. 5. Upton believes the high court’s June 26 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, along with a subsequent order from Garcia enjoining state officials from enforcing Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, require that the state allow gay couples to have both names on birth certificates.

Also writing a letter to Garcia on Friday was Elizabeth Brenner, an attorney for William Kenneth Wallace, who’s been denied a death certificate listing him as his late husband’s spouse. According to Brenner’s letter, Wallace has gone to the health department’s vital statistics office numerous times in person over the last month and a half, but each time he was turned away — most recently on July 27.

Brenner’s letter requests permission to appear at the contempt hearing as an interested party.

As you may recall, there was some motion in the Lege to fix birth certificates for children of same-sex couples, but it didn’t make it through. I’d rather we had a legislative fix for this than a judicial one, but what matters is getting it fixed. We’ll see what Judge Garcia thinks of all this. The Dallas Voice has more.

Revisiting birth certificates

This is one of those next steps that needs to be taken.

After the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, some gay and lesbian couples in Texas have raised questions about another legal document – birth certificates.

They want Texas birth certificates to list two parents’ names, even if a child has two moms or two dads. Birth certificates issued by the state list one mother and one father.

Change could come in the next few weeks, said Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for Texas Department of State Health Services. She said state officials are reviewing the Supreme Court decision with attorneys and the attorney general’s office. They’re looking at how the ruling could compel revision to other vital records, such as death certificates that list a surviving spouse, she said.

“Once we complete that analysis, we would make any necessary changes as soon as possible,” Williams said in an email.

As you may recall, a bill to reform how birth certificates list parental names got some traction in the Lege but ultimately fell short. We can wait till 2017 to try again, or we can hope for direct intervention.

Texas birth certificates only allow for a mother and a father to be listed. That means, for instance, when a woman has a child, her same-sex spouse is not automatically listed on the birth certificate — and considered the child’s parent — as a male spouse would be. The non-biological parent has to adopt the child later to gain parental rights.

Same-sex couples adopting a child run into the state’s requirements for supplemental birth certificates, which are issued to establish parental rights for adopters. Texas supplemental certificates allow for two parents to be listed, “one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.” As a result, only one parent is listed for same-sex couples.

The Department of State Health Services has already modified marriage licenses to accommodate same-sex couples, but a spokeswoman for the department said it is analyzing what to do about birth certificates in light of the high court’s decision.

“We are reviewing the ruling to determine what, if any, changes will be needed to our forms or processes relating to issues other than marriage applications,” said the department’s Carrie Williams.

Family law attorneys who handle same-sex adoptions aren’t hopeful the matter will be easily resolved, predicting it’ll take a legal challenge to force the state to modify the birth certificates.

[…]

It is estimated that 9,191 same-sex couples in Texas are raising children, according to the Williams Institute, a nonpartisan think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Dallas family law attorney Susan Vrana said she expected the state’s top elected officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, both Republicans, to provide leadership on the issue. (Paxton, a conservative who staunchly opposes same-sex marriage, has said county clerks with religious objections can opt out of issuing marriage licenses.)

“I’m hoping that good judgment and good lawyering by the attorney general and the governor will” resolve the issue, Vrana said. “We all live in hope that they’ll put their lawyer hats on and remember their oath.”

I know Ms. Vrana is trying to catch some flies with a honey jar, but we all know that ain’t gonna happen. I’ll put my money on a lawsuit being filed sometime before the 2017 Lege convenes. We are incapable of doing things the easy way in this state.

House chubfest kills several bad bills

Some good news, though as always at the end of a session, the outcome isn’t clean and the details are very murky.

Squalius cephalus, the official mascot of talking bills to death

As the clock struck midnight, the failure of an anti-abortion initiative — dear to the hearts of the far right — marked the end of a tumultuous day on the floor of the Texas House that saw the passage of sweeping ethics reform and a version of legislation allowing concealed carrying of handguns on college campuses.

On the last day that it could approve major legislation that began in the Senate, the lower chamber embarked on an all-day procedural waltz, with Democrats attempting to kill bills by delaying them past midnight, and Republicans looking for openings to move their legislation.

Early in the day, Democrats narrowly shot down an attempt to essentially change the order of the calendar, moving big-ticket items up for faster consideration. They then used every parliamentary trick in the book to slow the pace, delaying consideration of mostly uncontroversial bills.

But after huddling in a secret meeting in a room adjacent to the House floor, Democrats let the action get moving again.

For hours, the House debated an ethics reform bill, dissolving into angry tirades and raunchy debate about the reach of a drug-testing provision for lawmakers.

The passionate debate pitted Republicans against each other — over lifting the veil on “dark money” and restricting people from recording or videotaping politicians without their permission.

With the clock ticking, a few Republicans at one point even sought to postpone debate over ethics legislation — deemed a priority by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — so the House could take up campus carry and an abortion bill that would have prohibited coverage of the procedure on certain health insurance plans.

Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer of Tyler asked state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, the House sponsor of the ethics legislation, to temporarily pull down the measure so that it did not chew up the time left on the clock.

After Cook declined, Democrats took to the mic to reiterate that ethics reform was declared an emergency item by the governor and was supposed to be prioritized over the rest of the calendar.

The House eventually passed the ethics bill, including the dark money provision, then went back to an innocuous agency-review bill, also known as a Sunset bill, to reform the Department of Family and Protective Services.

[…]

The biggest victim of the midnight deadline was Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor, which would have banned abortion coverage on plans sold on the federal Affordable Care Act’s marketplace.

Originally, SB 575 would have banned abortion coverage on both ACA plans and private health insurance plans. But the House State Affairs Committee amended the bill to mirror a measure filed in the House by state Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown, and approved by the committee this month before dying on a House bill deadline.

Republicans had said they intended to amend it on the floor to bring back the private insurance ban.

The bill — passed in the Senate earlier this month — died in the House after a turbulent ride in the lower chamber.

It was cleared by the State Affairs Committee on Saturday in a last-minute vote on the last day the committee could clear Senate proposals.

Killing SB575 was a big one, and one of the Democrats’ main goals for deadline day. They also succeeded in preventing an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families to a sunset bill for the Department of Family and Protective Services, another main goal. What did get passed was a somewhat watered-down version of campus carry that will allow university trustees to designate certain “gun-free zones” as long as there isn’t a blanket ban on carrying firearms by those with concealed handgun licenses. The campus carry bill could possibly have been stopped, though (this is where we get into the messy and murky stuff) that could have had effects that would make the victory a lot more pyhrric. The Morning News hints at some of what might have happened.

Late Tuesday, the House was debating the gun measure, though it was unclear if it would pass.

Several Republicans said that after the initial slowdown, Speaker Joe Straus intervened in the early afternoon, to get things moving. There were conflicting accounts, though, of precisely how Straus, a San Antonio Republican, did so.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Tan Parker of Flower Mound said that in conversations with individual Democrats, “the speaker was firm that he would use everything,” meaning parliamentary “nuclear options,” to shut down debate and force votes.

Straus, though, was coy.

“I didn’t talk to Democrats,” Straus told a reporter. “But I intend to get through this,” he added, referring to the House’s agenda.

One consideration may have been that the campus carry bill is part of a grand bargain on tax cuts, border security, guns and ethics. The deal may allow lawmakers to finish their work Monday, as scheduled, instead of having a special session.

As passed by the Senate, the campus carry measure would allow the licensed concealed carrying of handguns in most public university buildings. There were rumblings the House might restore a campus-by-campus opt-in provision, as it did two years ago, or let the measure die when the clock struck midnight.

Whether Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and his GOP allies in the Senate would consider that a breach of the grand bargain remained unclear.

[…]

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, said he was upset that some senior Democrats relented.

“We’ve given away too much leverage,” he said.

There was talk that Martinez Fischer and other long-serving Democrats were worried the minority might be asking for too much, especially after gaining key House GOP leaders’ cooperation in squelching bills aimed at unions and stopping hailstorm damage lawsuits.

[Rep. Trey] Martinez Fischer, though, called that too facile.

“You can’t view everything as a quid pro quo,” he said. “It’s not personal. It’s all about business.”

Martinez-Fischer had a point of order that could have killed the campus carry bill, but he pulled it down after some intense discussion, and thus it went to a vote. How you feel about all this likely correlates directly to your opinion of his dealmaking ability and trustworthiness in making such deals. It’s also the case that this isn’t the end of the story, as the Statesman notes.

Cutting off debate ended a daylong Democratic effort to avoid a floor vote on the campus carry legislation before a drop-dead midnight deadline to have an initial vote on Senate bills.

After the vote, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said Democrats voluntarily pulled down their amendments after winning a key concession with an approved amendment allowing colleges and universities to have limited authority on banning guns in certain campus areas.

In addition, he said, Republicans were prepared to employ a rarely used maneuver to cut off debate with a motion that had already lined up agreement from the required 25 House members.

[…]

The bill-killing tactics appeared headed for success late Tuesday, until Speaker Joe Straus abruptly called for a vote on SB 11 about 20 minutes before the deadline.

The move avoided a bitter blow for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.

Based on assurances from House leaders that campus carry would get a floor vote in their chamber, Patrick and Birdwell declined last week to add the school gun bill as an amendment to House Bill 910, a measure to allow openly carried holstered handguns that is now one small step away from Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Before approving SB11, the House voted overwhelmingly to allow each college and university to regulate where guns may be excluded, as long as firearms are not banned campus-wide. Each plan would have to be approved by two-thirds of the board of regents under the amendment by Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, that was approved 119-29.

The House also adopted an amendment by Rep. Sarah Davis, R-Houston, to exempt health care-related institutions and the Texas Medical Center from campus carry.

“Never assume the Democrats gave up on campus carry. Democrats did not give up on campus carry,” said Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “The Zerwas amendment waters it down. The bill will go to conference and we will continue to have our input in the process.”

Here’s a separate Trib story on the campus carry bill, an Observer story about the ethics reform bill that was a main vehicle for Democratic stalling tactics, and a Chron story on the overall chubbing strategy as it was happening. Newsdesk, RG Ratcliffe, and Hair Balls have more on the day overall, and for the last word (via PDiddie), here’s Glen Maxey:

LGBT people are finally, FINALLY free from all types of mischief and evilness. The Senate gets to debate the Cecil Bell amendment by Sen. Lucio put on a friggin’ Garnet Coleman bill tomorrow. It’s all for show. Garnet Coleman is one of the strongest allies of the LGBTQ community. They could amend all the anti-gay stuff they want on it and he’ll strip it off in conference or just outright kill the bill before allowing it to pass with that crap on it. This is for record votes to say they did “something” about teh gays to their nutso base.

And lots of high stakes trading to make sure that other stuff didn’t get amended onto bills today (labor dues, TWIA, etc.) and making sure an Ethics Bill of some sort passed. We didn’t want that to die and give Abbot a reason to call a special session.

Campus carry got watered down… no clue what happens in conference. And the delaying tactics kept us from reaching the abortion insurance ban.

Four good Elections bills passed today. Three on Consent in the House, three in the Senate all will be done by noon Wednesday.

And Lastly: Pigs have flown and landed. HB 1096 the bad voter registration bill is NOT on the Calendar for tomorrow and is therefore DEAD. I am one proud lobbyist on that one. With it’s demise, no major voter suppression bills passed (well, except for Interstate Crosscheck which is only bad if implemented badly, and we have to stay on top of it to make sure it’s not), and over forty good ones survived.

Just a few technical concurrences, and we’re done. Thank the goddess and well, some bipartisanship for once.

As someone once said, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. See the next post for more on that.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

After four hours of debate and more than a dozen failed amendments offered by Democrats, the Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to far-reaching restrictions on minors seeking abortions in Texas without parental consent.

On a 21-10 vote, the upper chamber signed off on House Bill 3994 by Republican state Rep. Geanie Morrison of Victoria to tighten the requirements on “judicial bypass,” the legal process that allows minors to get court approval for an abortion if seeking permission from their parents could endanger them.

The vote was along party lines with one Democrat, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, joining Republicans to pass the measure.

[…]

After it reached the Senate, [Sen. Charles] Perry did some rewriting on HB 3994 to address two of the bill’s most controversial provisions on which both Democrats and some conservatives had raised concerns.

As expected, he gutted a provision that would have required all doctors to presume a pregnant woman seeking an abortion was a minor unless she could present a “valid government record of identification” to prove she was 18 or older.

The ID requirement — dubbed “abortion ID” by opponents — raised red flags because it would apply to all women in the state even though the bill focused on minors.

Under Perry’s new language, a physician must use “due diligence” to determine a woman’s identity and age, but could still perform the abortion if a woman could not provide an ID. Doctors would also have to report to the state how many abortions were performed annually without “proof of identity and age.”

Perry said the revised language “gives physician more latitude” to determine a woman’s age.

But Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson of Austin, who spoke in opposition to the bill and questioned Perry for almost an hour, questioned the ID requirement altogether.

“I can’t think of another instance where we presume women are children,” Watson said. “I certainly can’t think of any situation where we presume a man is a child.”

Perry also changed course on a provision that would have reversed current law such that if a judge does not rule on the bypass request within five days, the request is considered denied. Under current law, the bypass is presumed approved if a judge does not rule.

Perry cut that denial provision from the bill, saying it is now “silent” on the issue. But that did little to appease opponents who pointed out a judge’s failure to rule effectively denies the minor an abortion.

“In essence, the judge can bypass the judicial bypass by simply not ruling,” Watson said, adding that the appeals process is derailed without a denial by a judge.

HB 3994 also extends the time in which judges can rule on a judicial bypass case from two business days to five. Perry said this was meant to give judges more time and “clarity” to consider these cases.

But Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who also offered several unsuccessful amendments, questioned whether Perry’s intentions were rooted in a distrust of women and judges.

“I’m not really sure who it is you don’t trust — the girls, the judges or the entire judicial system?” Garcia asked.

See here for the background. The Senate version is not quite as bad as the original House version that passed, but as Nonsequiteuse notes, it’s still a farce that does nothing but infantilize women. It’s a cliched analogy, but can anyone imagine a similar set of hoops for a man to jump through to get a vasectomy or a prescription for Viagra? The only people who will benefit from this bill are the lawyers that will be involved in the litigation over it. Oh, and Eddie Lucio sucks. Good Lord, he needs to be retired. TrailBlazers, the Observer, and Newsdesk have more.

Bad bill #2:

In a dramatic turn of events, the House Calendars Committee on Sunday night reversed course and sent a controversial bill prohibiting health insurance plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplace from covering abortions to the full chamber for a vote.

Earlier in the night, the committee voted not to place Senate Bill 575 by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor on the lower chamber’s calendar for Tuesday — the last day a Senate bill can be passed by the House. After fireworks on the House floor instigated by a lawmaker who believed he had entered into an agreement to get the bill to the full chamber, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its vote.

Under SB 575, women seeking coverage for what Taylor has called “elective” abortions would have been required to purchase supplemental health insurance plans.

On Saturday, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, had threatened to force a House vote to prohibit abortions on the basis of fetal abnormalities by filing an amendment to an innocuous agency review bill. But Stickland later withdrew the amendment, telling the Austin American-Statesman that he had agreed to pull it down in exchange of a vow from House leadership that they would move SB 575 forward.

The bill did make it out of the House State Affairs Committee, chaired by state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. But when it got to Calendars, that committee voted it down, leading Stickland to go after Cook on the House floor. Stickland had to be separated from Cook, and House sergeants immediately ran over to prevent a lengthier tussle.

Again, infantilizing women. And speaking of infants, what more can be said about Jonathan Stickland? I know there’s a minimum age requirement to run for office. Maybe there needs to be a minimum maturity requirement as well. Hey, if we can force doctors to assume that women seeking abortions are children, we can assume that any first-time filer for office is a callow jerk. We sure wouldn’t have been wrong in this case.

Bad bill #3:

Senate Republicans on Monday voted to move the state’s Public Integrity Unit out of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The action was spurred in part by last year’s indictment of former Gov. Rick Perry.

The legislation by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would move key decisions about investigating public officials to the Texas Rangers and away from the Democratic-controlled Travis County District Attorney.

The bill was approved in a 20-11 vote, with Democrats casting all the no votes.

[…]

Under the proposed law, any district attorney looking at suspicious activity by a state official would refer the matter to new Public Integrity Unit within the Texas Rangers. That office would then use a Texas Ranger to further investigate the allegation, with expenses handled by the Texas Department of Public Safety.

If confirmed, the recommendation for further action would be sent to the district attorney in the home county of the public official. That district attorney could pursue or drop the investigation.

See here for the background. As I said before, I don’t think this is the worst bill ever, but I do think it’s a guarantee that some future scandal will result from this. And as others have pointed out, it sets up legislators to be treated differently than every other Texan in this sort of situation. That’s never a good precedent to set.

And finally, bad bill #4:

Gays and same-sex couples could be turned away from adopting children or serving as foster parents under an amendment filed by a social conservative House member and expected to be heard Tuesday.

The measure also would allow child welfare providers to deny teenagers in foster care access to contraception or an abortion under a wide umbrella of religious protections for the state contractor.

Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, has filed the measure that gives state contractors for child welfare services the right to sue the state if they are punished for making decisions based on their religious beliefs.

The state could not force contractors to follow policies providing for contraception or allowing same-sex couples to adopt, for instance. If the state tried to terminate a contract or suspend licensing for the state contractors’ failure to abide by such polices, the contractor could sue, win compensatory damages, relief from the policy and attorneys fees against the state, according to the proposal.

Sanford tried to pass as separate bill earlier in the session, but it failed. The proposal now has resurfaced as an amendment to the sunset bill that would reconstitute the Department of Family and Protective Services.

I’m just going to hand this one off to Equality Texas:

TUESDAY, MAY 26TH, Rep. Scott Sanford will try again to pass an amendment allowing child welfare agencies to discriminate against LGBT families

Tell your State Representative to oppose the Sanford amendment permitting discrimination in Texas’ child welfare system.

Rep. Scott Sanford has pre-filed an amendment that he will seek to add to SB 206 on Tuesday, May 26th. This cynical “religious refusal” amendment would authorize all child welfare organizations to refuse to place a child with a qualified family just because that family doesn’t meet the organization’s religious or moral criteria.

If enacted into law, the Sanford Amendment would allow child welfare providers to discriminate against not just gay and transgender families, but also against people of other faiths, interfaith couples and anyone else to whom a provider objects for religious reasons.

The only consideration of a child welfare agency should be the best interest of the child – not proselytizing for a single, narrow religious interpretation.

SB 206 is not objectionable. However, adding the Sanford Amendment to SB 206 must be prevented.

Urge your State Representative to OPPOSE the Sanford Amendment to SB 206.

Amen to that.

Two anti-gay bills advance

Look out.

RedEquality

Gay rights advocates began sounding the alarm Wednesday after two anti-LGBT bills cleared House committees and another received a favorable hearing.

Kathy Miller, president of the Texas Freedom Network, said if LGBT groups and their corporate allies don’t work quickly to generate the type of backlash seen over a religious freedom bill in Indiana last month, it could soon be too late.

Miller made the statement on a day when separate House panels advanced bills that would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses and allow state-funded adoption agencies to turn away gay couples based on religious beliefs. The two bills, which breached a dam that had kept a record number of anti-LGBT measures at bay for the first 100 days of the session, now head to the Calendars Committee.

“My fear is that if the Indiana-style outrage doesn’t happen now, before these bills make it to the floor of the House, it will be too late, because the membership of the House will pass these bills, and then the Senate will fly them through, and Gov. [Greg] Abbott will have no choice but to sign them in his mind,” Miller said.

Miller and others said with the U.S. Supreme Court set to hear oral arguments on same-sex marriage Tuesday, moderate Republicans in the Legislature are feeling the heat from social conservatives.

“I feel like the Republican base is desperately afraid of the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage this summer,” Miller said. “I think there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on the leadership in the House to pass anti-LGBT legislation. I think some of Speaker [Joe] Straus’ lieutenants are more likely to cave in to that pressure than others.”

[…]

The House Committee on State Affairs voted 7-3 along party lines to advance House Bill 4105, which would prohibit state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages.

Among those voting in favor of the bill was Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), a moderate who chairs the committee and has come out in support of one pro-LGBT bill.

“For me, I believe in the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, so that’s why I voted for it,” Cook said.

All due respect, and I do respect Rep. Cook for his support of the birth certificate bill, but he’s not a moderate. As I noted before, he received an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card. His support of Rep. Anchia’s bill is great and appreciated, but it doesn’t change who he is.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two proposed religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution. But the TAB has remained silent on the bills that cleared committee Wednesday.

“We have not taken a position and doubtful (with timing of the session) that we will be able to,” TAB President Chris Wallace said in an email. “We will continue to monitor the business-related implications.”

Late Wednesday, the House Committee on Juvenile Justice and Family Affairs voted 6-1 to advance House Bill 3864, by Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), which would allow state-funded child welfare providers to discriminate based on sincerely held religious beliefs.

Meanwhile, dozens of pastors gave hours of testimony in support of House Bill 3567, also by Sanford, which he said is designed to prevent clergy from being forced to perform same-sex marriages. Critics of HB 3567 say it’s so broadly written that it could allow any religiously affiliated organization—from hospitals to universities and homeless shelters—to discriminate against LGBT people.

None of this is good, so now would be an excellent time to call your State Rep and ask him or her to vote against these bills. It would also be nice if the TAB and its other corporate allies would remember that not only are these bills bad for business, they will inevitably lead to expensive litigation (that the state will lose) because they’re clearly unconstitutional. The cheaper and safer route is to keep them bottled up in the House.

It’s hard to overstate just how out of step with public opinion all of this is. I can only conclude that the GOP is more in thrall to its zealot wing than it is to the business lobby. Maybe this will finally help cause a bit of a schism. As far as those “Christians” that were there to lobby for these bills, they don’t represent all people of faith. Not by a longshot. And finally, if Indiana and Arkansas weren’t object lessons enough for Republicans, just keep an eye on Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal has decided that the best strategy is to double down. Imitating Arkansas is bad enough – do we have to do what Louisiana does, too? The Trib has more.

Still no action on fixing birth certificates

It’s shameful that this doesn’t have the votes to get out of committee.

Prior to a hearing on a bill that would permit faith-based adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT people, Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) delivered an impassioned speech on the House floor in support of a proposal to allow the adopted children of same-sex couples to have accurate birth certificates.

Anchia’s House Bill 537 was heard by the State Affairs Committee last month but remains stalled there due to a lack of support among members. On Wednesday, Anchia used a rare point of privilege, which he said was his first in six terms in the Legislature, to address the bill on the floor.

Anchia said the bill, which he’s carried four times, is always well-received in committee, and the author of the law the measure seeks to overturn, former state Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), has acknowledged it should be changed.

“Yet year after year these bills languish because of outside pressure from groups that lie to you and tell you the bill does something it doesn’t do,” Anchia said, referring to opposition to HB 537 from the anti-LGBT group Texas Values. “Regardless of how you feel about a kid’s parents, you’re always good to the kid. They didn’t pick their parents, but those are the parents they have, and you know, those are the parents they love, and they deserve accurate birth certificates. We can do better than this. Texas is better than this.”

Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) then requested that Anchia’s remarks be recorded in the House Journal.

Cook, who chairs State Affairs, made headlines when he smacked down a witness from Texas Values during a hearing on the bill.

“I just want everybody to know that I support what we’re trying to do here for these kids,” Cook said on the floor Wednesday.

See here for the background. Here are the members of the House State Affairs Committee. If your State Rep is on there, please consider giving him or her a call and asking for their support of HB537. Trail Blazers has more.

Meanwhile, in other adoption-related legislation.I say

Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) says he wants to make sure faith-based adoption agencies that receive state funding aren’t forced to close their doors if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples.

But opponents of Sanford’s House Bill 3864 say it could have unintended consequences, such as allowing foster homes to force gay youth to undergo conversion therapy or require Christian youth to attend Muslim schools.

On Wednesday, Sanford told a House committee that in some states where same-sex marriage is legal, organizations such as Catholic Charities have shut down rather than comply with laws barring discrimination against gay couples.

“Faith-based organizations have played a vital role in serving our nation’s orphan and needy children since America’s founding, and this legislation protects their operations,” Sanford said. “States without these protective measures have had organizations cease to operate, placing more demand on government.”

HB 3864, which Sanford is calling the “Hope for Orphans and Minors Expansion Act,” or HOME, would prohibit the state from taking “adverse action” against child welfare providers that receive taxpayer dollars and act based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” It would also protect the rights of state-funded agencies to provide religious education to children and to deny them access to abortions or birth control.

During the hearing on Wednesday, opponents said Sanford’s bill would allow the religious convictions of providers to trump the best interests of children. They also said the rights of faith-based providers are already protected under the state’s 1999 Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

I say if faith-based groups want to receive secular government-based funds then they can obey the secular government laws that come with them. If they can’t do that, then I’m fine with increasing the supply of government to pick up the slack from them when they refuse to get involved. Either way is fine by me. I recognize that’s not what this Legislature will want, I just wanted to be clear about it.

Trying again to fix birth certificates

This is encouraging.

A Republican committee chairman smacked down an anti-LGBT witness Wednesday during a hearing on a proposal to allow same-sex parents to have both their names on the birth certificates of adopted children.

Julie Drenner, of Texas Values, claimed the bill would lead to threesomes adopting, affect all birth certificates and require the state to revise more than 20 forms.

But Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), chairman of the House Committee on State Affairs, told Drenner he was “struggling” with those arguments, and suggested that same-sex couples have been more willing to adopt special-needs children than “the traditional community.”

“That’s a terrible indictment on one group, to be honest with you,” Cook told Drenner. “In regards to your issue that you have to change the forms, so what? I really don’t understand that argument at all. Right now in Texas, we are struggling. We do not have enough parents who are willing to adopt. Thank goodness for people that will adopt children and give them loving homes.”

In 1997, the Legislature amended the Texas Health & Safety Code to require supplemental birth certificates issued to adoptive parents to contain the name of one female, the mother, and one male, the father. Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), the author of House Bill 537, said as a result, roughly 9,000 Texas children who are being raised by adoptive same-sex parents don’t have accurate birth certificates. That leads to problems enrolling children in school, adding them to insurance policies, admitting them for medical care and obtaining passports.

“Regardless of what you think about the parents, this state should be about promoting policies that protect children and foster adoption, and that’s what this bill does,” Anchia said.

[…]

Cook, who has an adopted child, left the bill pending but indicated he plans to call it back up.

“We owe it to young people like [14-year-old Zoe Touchet] to give them some peace of mind on this issue and some clarity,” Cook said.

The Trib also covered this.

Cook, who has an adopted child, said he supports the bill not as an endorsement of gay rights, but out of concern for the well-being of adopted children. But gay rights advocates and Democrats alike are celebrating his backing of the measure.

“This bill is not about gay rights issues. This is about children,” Cook told The Texas Tribune. “It really is a different issue from the way some of the folks have tried to frame it.”

[…]

Daniel Williams, a legislative director for Equality Texas, described Cook as a statesman “who is absolutely committed to passing laws that help the state of Texas.” The birth certificate measure is a key component of the group’s legislative agenda to benefit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

This is not the first time Cook has drawn attention for his position on contentious issues before the committee. In 2011, when it was considering a bill banning so-called sanctuary cities — cities that forbid local peace officers from enforcing federal immigration laws — Cook voiced his concerns about the bill and said he wanted to understand how it might affect young people for whom he said he has a “soft spot.”

Cook’s support for the birth certificate measure could put him at odds with members of his party who may be unwilling to support legislation that benefits same-sex couples.

At a time when Republicans are increasingly concerned about picking up primary challengers if they don’t stick to the Tea Party’s far-right ideological line, Cook, who was first elected in 2002, said conservatives should be focused on passing good policy rather than trying to get re-elected.

“We need to try to do what’s right for our state and for our constituents,” Cook said. “It’s an injustice to look at it from the perspective of what keeps me in office, what keeps me from having an opponent.”

See here for some background. Rep. Anchia filed a similar bill in 2013 that never made it out of committee. Rep. Cook is not known to be an ally of the LGBT community – he scored an F on the 2013 Equality Texas report card – but he did establish a close rapport with Rep. Mary Gonzalez last session, so who knows, maybe that had an effect on him. Kudos to him for smacking down the professional liar from Texas Values and for focusing on what really matters in this issue – the adopted children. Especially in a session that’s been lousy for equality issues otherwise, this is a nice piece of hopeful news. I hope Rep. Cook keeps his promise to bring the bill up for a vote later.

Fixing birth certificates

Trying again, with some hope for progress.

The Texas Legislature added a provision to the Health & Safety Code in 1997 requiring supplemental birth certificates issued to adoptive parents to contain the name of one female, the mother, and one male, the father.

According to the legislation’s author, former state Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), it was part of a renewed commitment to “conservative values.” But Hartnett acknowledged last year that the law should be revisited if it’s negatively impacting children.

On Wednesday, state Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) [introduced] a bill for the fourth consecutive session that would remove gender requirements for adoptive parents on supplemental birth certificates. And for the first time, a companion to Anchia’s bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate later [Wednesday] by Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston).

Many judges in Texas routinely grant joint adoptions to same-sex couples, so the legislation wouldn’t create new parental rights. But not having accurate birth certificates causes problems when it comes to enrolling children in school, adding them to insurance policies, admitting them for medical care and obtaining passports.

Anchia, whose bill has never made it out of committee, said if it fails to do so in 2015, he plans to force a floor vote by offering it as an amendment, and he’s confident it will pass.

“I think if you asked every member of the Legislature, they would say they care about orphaned children, and if we can get them to understand that this bill is about children and not about who their parents are, then that should carry the day,” Anchia told the Observer this week. “There’s no doubt that this policy has cruel effects.”

According to Equality Texas, the birth certificate restriction is among the inequities facing the LGBT community that wouldn’t be solved by legalization of same-sex marriage—since it involves the relationship between a parent and a child, not between parents.

About 9,200 same-sex couples in Texas are raising children, according to Census estimates, but it’s unclear how many are adoptive parents.

Rep. Anchia’s bill is HB537, and his press release announcing it is here. Sen. Garcia’s companion bill is here – Sen. Jose Rodriguez appears to be a co-author – and her press release for it is here. I noted Rep. Anchia’s efforts from the last session. I have some hope that he’ll have more success this time, but I can’t say I have any faith. Speaking of faith, it sure would have been nice if all those people that had been pushing that “commitment” for a “renewal” of “conservative values” back in 1997 had stopped for a moment to consider the possibility that their actions might have real consequences for a bunch of people who had done nothing wrong and didn’t deserve the hardship they were about to face. Funny how that happens, isn’t it? Fixing this self-inflicted damage to birth certificates is one of many things that will remain on the “to do” list after marriage equality is finally the law of the land. The more we take care of now, the easier it will be later, and the better off many people will be.

It shouldn’t be this hard to get a driver’s license

And for most people it isn’t that hard. But for some people, it is.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Daniela Parker has two mothers, a circumstance that turned a typically routine matter – scheduling a road test for a Texas driver’s license – into a lengthy hassle.

Parker, Mayor Annise Parker’s daughter, was turned away from taking the road test on Thursday because, according to the mayor, there are inconsistencies on her personal identification documents.

In a tweet, the mayor said that in some documents she is listed as the girl’s mother, while in others Annise Parker’s wife, Kathy Hubbard, is listed as the mother. They adopted Daniela and younger sister Marquitta in 2003. Parker and Hubbard married earlier this year in California.

Two previous trips by Daniela to the Department of Public Safety were unsuccessful. A third trip Friday to the Rosenberg office did the trick.

“I’m just glad that on the third try someone cared enough to sort it out,” Parker said.

According to the Texas DPS website, information on documents used to verify identity must match. If, say, a name is different, the person must provide documents proving a legal name change.

As Hair Balls notes, getting a driver’s license has also proven a challenge for Connie Wilson, the California transplant who took her wife’s name when they got married out there. DPS did not recognize her California marriage license as being valid and thus turned her away because her legal name doesn’t match what is on her birth certificate. I don’t want to be too harsh on DPS here, as they are implementing the rules they have been given. The issue is that the rules are wrong and need to be changed, because Daniela Parker and Connie Wilson and everyone else in a similar situation deserves better. They deserve to be treated the same way I would be. I will never understand the reasons why anyone would disagree with that. I very much look forward to the day when stuff like this never happens again. Lone Star Q has more.

Texas same sex marriage plaintiffs want the get oral arguments scheduled

They would like to get on with their lives, if it’s not too much trouble to Greg Abbott and the Fifth Circuit.

RedEquality

Austin lawyer Nicole Dimetman is pregnant and expects to give birth for the first time on March 15, lawyers trying to overturn Texas’ gay-marriage ban announced Sunday.

“The need for justice and equality has always been urgent,” San Antonio lawyer Neel Lane, of the firm Akin Gump Strauss Haurer & Feld, said in a statement. “This development — Nicole’s pregnancy — only underscores that. We hope the [U.S.] 5th Circuit [Court of Appeals] will do what it can to move this case forward expeditiously.”

Dimetman and 13-year partner Cleopatra De Leon, an Air Force veteran, were married in Massachusetts five years ago. They want Texas to recognize their marriage.

After they were married, De Leon gave birth to a boy, now four years old. Dimetman adopted him. But adoption is expensive and time-consuming, and the couple would like to avoid going through the procedure again, Lane said. He noted that while for heterosexual couples, the establishment of parental rights is automatic, De Leon would have to do the adopting this time — to be legally recognized as a parent of the child they’re expecting.

“More importantly, the child will be exposed to great uncertainty and insecurity if, for some reason, Dimetman is rendered incapable of caring for the newborn child,” Lane said. “For instance, if Dimetman did not survive childbirth, the baby could be an orphan without a parent directing the baby’s care.”

The appeals court hasn’t set a date for a hearing in the case. Most of the briefs have been filed, though Abbott is scheduled to respond to the plaintiffs’ latest arguments very soon.

Lane noted that a three-judge panel, yet to be named by the appeals court, will hear the Texas case and one from Louisiana. In the Louisiana case, a federal district judge ruled that state could ban same-sex marriage. Briefs in it are to be completed by Nov. 7, Lane said. So a November oral argument in the Texas case would be ideal, as Dimetman would like to attend, he said. It’s unwise for women to travel late in their pregnancies if that can be avoided, and as of next month, Dimetman won’t have entered her pregnancy’s third trimester, he said.

Their co-plaintiff Mark Phariss wrote an op-ed in support of Dimetman and DeLeon, basically daring the state of Texas to live up to its stated concern about “families”, which our leadership supports far more in the abstract than in reality. The concerns about possible complications with the pregnancy and their consequences are more than theoretical to Dimetman and DeLeon. I’ve said before and I’ll say again, I do not understand the morality of anyone that would work to make the lives of Nicole Dimetman and Cleopatra DeLeon and their children more difficult and less secure. I don’t know if the Fifth Circuit is going to abet justice or stand in its way in this litigation, but one way or another we need to get this show on the road.

That takes on an even stronger urgency now that the Supreme Court has denied petitions to hear appeals of the various appellate court decisions striking down state bans on same sex marriage. By doing so, all of the lower court decisions striking down those bans in Indiana, Wisconsin, Utah, Oklahoma, and Virginia will go into effect, which is to say same sex couples can legally get married in those states, and shortly thereafter in the other states within those judicial districts. If the Fifth Circuit upholds the lower court’s ruling in this case, it seems safe to assume that SCOTUS will let that ruling stand as well. If they overturn it, or perhaps if the Sixth Circuit beats them to it, then that ought to fast-track review. One way or the other, however, further delays are just foot-dragging in the hope of postponing the inevitable. Daily Kos, Texpatriate, TPM, and Unfair Park have more.

UPDATE: Good luck with that, Ted.

Abbott’s appellate brief on same sex marriage is a complete loser

How weak does your case have to be to have to rely on this?

RedEquality

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed an appeal with the U.S. 5th Circuit Monday regarding the state’s same-sex marriage ban, which was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in February.

According to the brief, Abbott said Texas can ban same-sex marriage based on the State’s interest in procreation.

The State contends that marriage between a man and a woman “increases the likelihood” that they will produce and raise their children in “stable, lasting relationships.”

“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.”

You can see the brief at the Trail Blazers link above. I mean, seriously, they needed how many delays to come up with that? I guess after nearly 30 courts in a row have ruled against you there are only so many arguments one can reach for, but seriously? Procreation? As many people have been snarking on Facebook and elsewhere, lots of procreation takes place outside of marriage, and lots of marriages do not include procreation. Some people choose not to have children, others are unable to for whatever the reason. Some people get married after having had a vasectomy, or a hysterectomy, or some other permanent form of contraception (often, it should be noted, for reasons having nothing to do with procreation). Some people get married after reaching an age where having children is no longer possible. And on the flip side, not to put too fine a point on it but plenty of same-sex couples, including two of the litigants in the Texas case, are raising children. Some are their own biological children, which as we know has way more obstacles for them to overcome than we straight folks have to deal with, some have adopted, and some have children from previous relationships and marriages. There’s nothing about Abbott’s argument that wouldn’t deserve to be laughed out of a first-year mock trial court.

And hey, if the state of Texas really did care about “furthering the goals” of reproduction, I can think of plenty of far more effective ways for them to do it. Let’s start with expanding Medicaid, since a significant number of births in Texas are already paid for by Medicaid. Expanding Medicaid would also provide health care for more children and their parents. You could raise the minimum wage, which would make having children more affordable for many people, and you could implement sensible and meaningful family leave policies. Did you know that in the absence of a comprehensive non-discrimination law you can get fired for being pregnant? Did you know that workplaces are not required to make any accommodations to pregnant workers? I’ll bet a law that made those accommodations mandatory would have a salutary effect on our state’s fertility rate. Truly universal pre-K would also be a boon for people who have or want to have children. Oh, and then there are all those obstacles I mentioned earlier for same-sex couples that want to have children. We could maybe do something about those, too. In fact, I’m pretty sure that losing this appeal and having our state’s hurtful and discriminatory ban on same-sex marriage struck down would do more to improve the lives of families in Texas than any bullet point in Greg Abbott’s gubernatorial platform. Lord knows, he doesn’t support any of the things I’ve highlighted here.

Which suggests the conclusion that maybe Abbott tanked the appellate brief because he came to these conclusions himself, but of course can’t bring himself to say any of this out loud. That’s would be a better and more sensible rationale for filing this idiotic brief than sincerely believing it’s a winning argument, even for the sucky Fifth Circuit. Even I have a hard time believing they’d buy something that stupid. It’s also possible that he’s making this argument because there are no other arguments he can make. In which case, too bad for him. The Trib, Lone Star Q, and LGBTQ Insider have more.

It really is about more than just marriage

Jo Ann Santangelo writes for the Observer about what it means to be in a same-sex marriage that isn’t recognized as legal by the state of Texas.

RedEquality

In 2012, my wife, Kate, and I traveled more than 3,400 miles from Austin and back to marry legally in New York City. Seven years earlier, in November 2005, our fellow Texas voters had approved Proposition 2, amending the Texas Constitution to declare that “Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman,” thereby banning same-sex marriage within the state’s borders.

Like other same-sex couples who live in Texas, we are denied access to 1,138 federal rights, benefits and privileges because our marriage is not recognized here. That list, tallied in a 2003 report by the General Accounting Office, includes Social Security, military and veterans’ benefits, employment rights, and immigration and naturalization privileges.

In the eyes of Texas, Kate is not my next of kin. To approximate the status that a legally recognized marriage would confer, our attorney has recommended that we file six different contracts: a medical power of attorney and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act release; statutory durable power of attorney; declaration of guardian; directive to physicians; appointment of agent to control disposition of remains; and a last will and testament.

We have recently begun trying to become parents. Kate will be the birth mother. A lawyer has been necessary in this process as well. Months ago we started discussing the paperwork that will be required for me to adopt our child. We discovered that even after I file this paperwork, am screened and declared a fit mother by Child Protective Services, and appear in front of a judge, my name can never appear on our child’s birth certificate due to Texas Health and Safety Code 192.008, which states, “The supplementary birth certificate of an adopted child must be in the names of the adoptive parents, one of whom must be a female, named as the mother, and the other of whom must be a male, named as the father.”

You can see that GAO report here; it’s actually an update to a report from 1997, prepared after the passage of the now-unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act that listed a mere 1,049 “federal statutory provisions classified to the United States Code in which benefits, rights, and privileges are contingent on marital status or in which marital status is a factor”. All these rights that the rest of us get to take for granted were a part of the argument against Prop 2 in 2005, but unfortunately they fell on deaf ears. The courts are likely to grant same sex couples the right to have their marriages recognized and to get married wherever they want, but a lot of those “benefits, rights, and privileges” are codified into state laws as well, and their practical effect won’t disappear overnight when and if SCOTUS makes a favorable ruling in the Utah case. As the Riggs and Hanna case showed, there are lots more issues to be sorted out, and this will take time because the Lege is unlikely to deal with the business of repealing these soon-to-be-unconstitutional laws. I mean hell, the anti-sodomy statute struck down by the Lawrence ruling of 2003 is still on the books. It’s going to take a lot of court cases clear these matters up one by one, which will mean a lot more harm and hardship to many same sex couples.

In her essay, Santagelo talked to six other same sex couples about their experiences, including one of the two couples that served as plaintiffs in the case that struck down Texas’ marriage law, which is now pending appeal.

Nicole: “[When we were discussing having children] we thought, ‘Do we get married now even though it’s not legal in our own state?’ We knew we wanted to have kids, but we didn’t want to have kids and not be married. We’re both pretty traditional people. There’s just no way we’re going to have kids out of wedlock, and I wanted to be able to tell [our son] that we’re as married as we can possibly be. … She had an inordinately hard labor, a C-section that wasn’t planned. It became an emergency. For about 30 minutes we didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Cleo: “It only comes up in some of the most vulnerable times. During the labor and delivery—you can’t adopt a child while he or she is in utero, so if something had happened … they become essentially orphans, they don’t have a second parent. The [legal arrangements] that we had, she could make decisions for me. She couldn’t make health decisions for him. We didn’t even think of that. You don’t think about those things. You think that you’re covered, you talk to your lawyer, you’ve got everything filed and prepared and ready, and then you’re in this situation and all of a sudden it dawns on you, ‘Oh my God.’ It really drove home the need to change the laws in this state. … So we are vulnerable, and that’s one of the reasons why we feel so strongly about the lawsuit that we’re in. We want to make sure that all the default laws that are afforded to different-sex couples are given to us as well, because we’re a family and we feel that if the state really wants to promote responsible procreation, then why are you making it harder for us?”

Nicole: “You don’t have an accidental kid in a gay relationship. There is so much intention and planning that goes into having a kid. There’s nothing irresponsible about that.”

Reading that just kills me. I can’t begin to wrap my mind around the hell that Nicole Dimetman and her son would have faced if tragedy had struck, but the point is that she shouldn’t have had to think about that. The sooner we as a society fix this injustice, the better.

Equality is about more than marriage

It’s about families, and lots of other things, too.

RedEquality

Joe Riggs and Jason Hanna never expected to make national news after a surrogate mom gave birth to their twins.

Riggs, 33, and Hanna, 37, have been together almost four years. They’re best known in the community for collecting teddy bears at Christmas for Children’s Hospital to donate to children going through chemotherapy or other serious procedure. They’ve donated about 1,000 bears so far. At their Christmas parties, they also collect money to divide between the Family Equality Council and Stand Up to Cancer.

“I always wanted a family,” Hanna said. “We both grew up in loving households.”

[…]

Last summer, the couple married in D.C. and in August had their religious ceremony at Cathedral of Hope. Riggs parents walked him down the aisle. His grandparents flew in for the ceremony as well.

But what would make the family complete for them was children. So last year, they enlisted the services of a surrogate to give birth to their biological children. Because Riggs had fertilized one of the eggs and Hanna the other egg that was implanted in the surrogate, they didn’t know which baby was biologically which dad’s when the boys were born. The eggs came from an anonymous out-of-state donor. So neither father’s name went on the birth certificate in the hospital.

So they went to court to end the surrogate’s parental rights and get their names on the birth certificates. The surrogate had signed the paperwork to relinquish her rights. (The woman who carried the babies had acted as surrogate before, but this was the first time she had done so for a gay couple.)

But the judge turned them down.

“The judge stated she couldn’t grant the adoptions with the petition in front of her,” Hanna said.

They had DNA tests and presented those tests as part of the petition. It didn’t matter. Not only did the judge turn down the surrogate’s request to end parental rights and have her name removed from the birth certificate, the judge refused to place the name of the biological dads on the birth certificates.

Finally, the judge turned down a request for each of the dads to adopt the other’s baby. So legally, the boys have one unrelated surrogate listed as their mother and no father.

“There are issues with these documents,” the judge said, without indicating what those issues were, according to Hanna.

I can’t begin to think of a valid reason for something like this. Surrogacy, demonstrating paternity, cross-adopting – these are all standard, not-the-least-bit-unusual things. What makes this even more exasperating is that as the story notes, filing this paperwork in a different county – Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Harris – would have led to it being routinely processed. Riggs and Hanna can refile in another county to get this mess straightened out, but they shouldn’t have to do that. This is just wrong, and it deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting – a Google News search on “Joe Riggs Jason Hanna” found no mainstream Texas news stories; the closest was this post in the Morning News LGBTQ Insider blog. The story has gone national, so maybe it will get some coverage here as well. It sure would be nice. Thanks to Texas Leftist for the heads up.

UPDATE: I got the impression from the Dallas Voice story above that Harris County would be a viable place to file for a second parent adoption, but the feedback I’ve received in the comments below and on the Facebook page say otherwise. As such, I’ve edited accordingly. Thanks for the correction!

Pride

So yesterday was the annual Pride parade in Houston. It was greeted by this sweet article in the lifestyle section.

Today’s Pride Festival will celebrate the diversity of the Houston area’s thriving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.

That diversity includes the determinedly domestic life that Ben Austin and Bill Thomasson have carved out with their two children in a southwestern suburb.

The walls of their roomy Sugar Land home are filled with family pictures — Thomasson is one of 11 siblings — as well as multiplication tables, maps and pennants of potential colleges. Not that Ava, 7, and Elijah, 6, are ready to think about college just yet. Elijah’s interests encompass the world of sports, while Ava is expert on all things canine.

The couple adopted the children from state authorities while living in Oakland, Calif., after taking required parent-training classes and fostering each of the children for more than a year. Ava was almost 4 when she entered the system, and Elijah was just a month old.

[…]

Austin, an adopted only child who went to Bellaire High School, met Thomasson in a gym in Oakland, Calif., in 2002. He says the two fell into domestication almost immediately and in April 2004 made it official with a domestic partnership. Both men wear wedding bands.

Both men played college baseball, which gets Elijah’s approval.

“He just thinks it’s better to have two dads because they both play baseball,” Austin says.

Gotta admit, that would be a bonus. The story made a nice and necessary counterweight to this remarkably self-loathing op-ed from Friday.

The gay parenting movement is still more evidence of the fundamental selfishness of post-Stonewall gay America. Whereas many gay couples can and do bring parentless children into their homes in an act of loving and giving, thousands of other gay couples who could have adopted use various technologies and arrangements to make babies that from the start have no mother or have no father. This cruel act — to one’s own child — is almost never criticized in the gay community, which is so focused on everyone’s freedom and self-esteem, it doesn’t seem to want to bother to notice that children are being hurt by being denied up front the right to have both a mother and a father.

The gay and lesbian community today is infected with what I like to call Equality Mania. That’s the belief that there is literally nothing more important than total equality between gays and straights, no matter what the costs. They are willing to sacrifice other good, important values in the name of gay equality — such as the religious freedom of same-sex marriage opponents, the welfare of children and (in the case of gays in the military) even national security.

I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, “Equality Mania”? Who knew a desire to be treated like everyone else was a disorder of some kind? I’m just dumbfounded. I think it’s safe to say this is an extreme minority position, one that’s in decline, but one that likely will never go away completely.

Anyway. To get the bad taste of that piece out of your mouth, here’s five great moments in Houston’s gay history, and here’s the news that the Caucus blog is back. Hope everyone had a happy weekend.