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Abbott waives fees for birth certificates for individuals from hurricane-affected counties

From Diane Trautman on Facebook, also sent to me in email:

Governor Greg Abbott has approved a request allowing the state to waive fees for mail-in or walk-in birth certificate issuance requests, and local registrars to waive fees for walk-in birth certificate issuance requests, for individuals from hurricane-affected counties. This is important for several reasons, one of which is that a birth certificate is a valid form of supporting documentation for voters without proper ID who need to sign an Affidavit of Reasonable Impediment.

A list of the affected counties is at the announcement. The language used is pretty legalistic, so unless you are familiar with “Section 418.016 of the code”, you may not realize from the announcement just what this means, so thanks to Diane Trautman for the interpretation. You probably know someone, or know someone who knows someone, who needs to know this, so please pass it on.

And then there’s the birth certificate issue

Just another problem that would be exacerbated by a bathroom bill.

In order to modify a birth certificate in Texas, the Department of State Health Services requires transgender individuals to present a certified court order stating the recorded sex on a birth certificate should be changed.

But a transgender person’s ability to obtain that court order is largely determined by where they live and their socioeconomic status, according to transgender individuals, advocates and lawyers who have worked with transgender Texans on the process.

Some county judges — even in more liberal urban areas — are less eager than others to grant the court order that’s required by the state, particularly when it comes to children. That forces some transgender individuals to travel to counties like Travis, Bexar or Dallas, where such court orders can be easier to obtain.

It can also be an expensive process. Court filings fees can reach $300 even before adding on attorneys fees or travel requirements. The process can be even more cost-prohibitive for transgender individuals because they must also obtain letters from both a doctor and a mental health provider certifying they are transgender and under their care to present to the court. For some, that also presents a geographic barrier because Texas faces a shortage of doctors and therapists “who do this kind of work,” said Claire Bow, an Austin-area attorney who helps transgender people obtain updated documents.

But for Bow, there’s a bigger flaw with Republicans’ proposals for bathroom restrictions and the expectation that transgender people could immediately take steps to obtain updated documents.

“The important thing to understand is it’s never the first step in the process,” Bow said of amending birth certificates or IDs. Bathroom bills assume that every transgender person has “gone all the way through the process” or have reached the point in treatment at which their doctors and therapists will sign off on the letter needed for court.

“That’s why this is hard,” she added. “Nobody wakes up one day…and changes their sex.”

The outcome of this complex process is that many transgender Texans live with birth certificates that don’t align with their gender identity for years if not their entire lives.

This is not the first time this issue has been brought up. Getting one’s birth certificate amended can be expensive and time-consuming, and if you happen to have been born in the wrong state, legally impossible. One way Republicans could address this issue would be to make it less cumbersome to amend a birth certificate, with some provision for the folks whose home states have no such mechanism. Of course, if they were inclined to do that, it might lead them to the conclusion that the bathroom bill is ridiculous and harmful and serves no purpose.

When your gender doesn’t match your birth certificate

The Daily Beast looks at what it means in practice to be a transgender person in Texas facing the prospect of having to use your birth certificate to use the bathroom.

According to the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank based out of the UCLA School of Law, there are over 125,000 transgender adults in Texas, most of them black or Latino. North Carolina, for comparison, is home to about 45,000 transgender adults. The Texas total falls just shy of 9 percent of the 1.4 million transgender adults in the entire country. No other state besides California has a larger trans population.

And if SB6 clears the state house—an uncertain possibility, given that Republican House Speaker Joe Straus has said he’s “not a fan of the bill”—those 125,000 transgender adults and thousands of transgender minors would be barred from using public restrooms unless they have successfully updated the gender markers on their birth certificates.

That’s where things get especially tricky for transgender Texans.

“Getting your documents updated in the state of Texas is rather difficult,” Lou Weaver, Transgender Programs Coordinator for the LGBT advocacy group Equality Texas, told The Daily Beast.

“Rather difficult,” in this case, is an understatement. The majority of U.S. states have written policies allowing transgender people to change the gender markers on their birth certificates with either a doctor’s letter specifying that they have had “appropriate clinical treatment” or proof of sex reassignment surgery, which not all transgender people want or can afford. About twice as many states require surgery as those that do not.

But the state of Texas goes a step further, requiring transgender people to obtain a court order—generally after surgery—to change the sex on their birth certificates.

Not all judges are willing to provide such an order.

As the National Center for Transgender Equality notes, “current case law and evidence indicates that some Texas officials and judges are averse to issuing the necessary court orders.”

Transgender people may have to travel to a different county to locate a court that will accommodate their request. And even when they people do find a willing judge, the process takes time.

In other words, someone who has had gender reassignment surgery but who has not been able to get the arduous process of updating their birth certificate changed would still have to use the public restroom of their birth gender under SB6. You want to see people with penises in the ladies’ room? SB6 will do that.

SB6 will hurt people

It will hurt transgender people, who despite what Dan Patrick would have you think, are people like you and me.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has said his so-called bathroom bill isn’t discriminatory because transgender people can update their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity.

However, statistics obtained by the Observer from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) suggest that fewer than 1 percent of transgender Texans have updated their birth certificates, meaning the overwhelming majority could be forced to use restrooms that don’t match their gender identity under Senate Bill 6.

LGBT advocates said the DSHS statistics, which have not before been made public, underscore the obstacles transgender Texans face if they seek to correct their gender markers on state identification documents.


According to DSHS, a total of 497 Texas natives updated their birth certificates “to reflect a medical or surgical sex change” from 2006 to 2016. Last year, the Williams Institute at UCLA estimated that 125,000 transgender adults reside in Texas.

DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen said the department doesn’t specifically track the number of transgender people who’ve corrected their birth certificates. However, in response to a request from the Observer, the state agency compiled the data based on how many people have updated their birth certificates using a court order.

“A court order is required to change the sex due to a medical or surgical sex change but not for a change due to an error,” Van Deusen said. “We’re reasonably confident this captures all changes to sex on birth certificates due to a court order.”

Texas has no standardized procedure for transgender people to update their birth certificates or driver’s licenses, and judges in only three of the state’s 254 counties — Bexar, Dallas and Travis — routinely issue court orders granting gender-marker changes, according to LGBT advocates. Last year, a Texas appeals court in Harris County rejected a trans man’s petition for a gender-marker change on his driver’s license.

There’s no standard procedure for updating one’s birth records. If you were born in another state, which may or may not even allow for this kind of correction, you may be out of luck. If you’re under 18, you are definitely out of luck. Even if all of these procedural issues could be resolved, this would still be discriminatory. Why should trans people have to go through all of this time and expense to be able to use a public restroom?

By the way, this is somewhat parallel to the experience of gays and lesbians before the Obergefell decision, in that in order to mimic the legal rights and protections granted under the law to straight married couples, they had to jump through dozens of legal hoops, often spending hundreds or thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees to achieve it. Requiring a class of people to expend time and money on things that everyone else gets to have for free no questions asked is the definition of discrimination.

Trans people have been using bathrooms without any fuss for decades. It was never a problem until Dan Patrick decided it was one. His “remedy” to this non-problem will help no one, but it will hurt many people. There are lots of valid business and economic reasons to oppose SB6, and I thank the people in the business community who have helped lead the fight against it. But at the end of the day, this is about treating people as people. Dan Patrick wants to treat some people as something less. I cannot abide that.

UT will not push UIL on transgender athletes


Despite objections from LGBT advocates, UIL’s longstanding informal policy is set to become official August 1 — when it takes effect as an amendment to the league’s constitution.

The amendment, initially approved by UIL’s Legislative Council last year, wasoverwhelmingly ratified by representatives from member districts in February.

However, LGBT advocates hoped officials at the University of Texas at Austin, which oversees UIL, would veto the amendment since it appears to conflict with the school’s policy against discrimination based on gender identity.

UT-Austin officials confirmed they were reviewing the proposed UIL amendment in April, but university spokesman J.B. Bird indicated this month they have no plans to halt its implementation because underlying legal questions about accommodations for trans students remain unsettled.

Bird noted that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton recently filed suit against the Obama administration over federal guidance saying public schools must allow trans students to use restrooms and other facilities “consistent with their gender identity.”

“I think that’s definitely causing the university to look very carefully at what’s happening around us … since we’re a state agency, and we have the state pursuing these actions ” Bird said.

Paul Castillo, a Dallas-based staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal, said that by allowing the UIL amendment to take effect, the university is violating Title IX of the U.S. Education Amendments, which prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs.

The U.S. Department of Education has repeatedly said Title IX protects trans students.

“They are violating Title IX by sitting on their hands and waiting for litigation to play itself out,” Castillo said of UT. “They’re putting their own funds at risk, but beyond that, as a university system, they should take a stand.”

See here, here, here, and here for the background. All that is needed here is for UT, and by extension the UIL, the follow the guidelines of the NCAA and International Olympic Committee, and thus not violate Title IX. Clearly, we are going to have to do this the hard way.

State settles birth certificate lawsuit


After undergoing mediation, the state of Texas has reached an agreement with undocumented families in a lawsuit over its denial to issue birth certificates to children born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants.

The state will clarify and expand the types of secondary forms undocumented immigrants can use to prove their identity, according to attorneys representing the group of undocumented parents and their U.S-born children who filed a lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Previously, immigrants in Texas could request birth certificates for their children if they had two secondary forms of ID, including Mexican voter registration cards and foreign IDs with a photo.

In the agreement, the state said it would accept voter ID cards received by undocumented immigrants in Texas by mail under recent changes to Mexican law, the attorneys said. Until earlier this year, the Mexican voter registration cards could only be obtained in Mexico.

The state also agreed to accept certain documents Central American parents can obtain from their consulates in the U.S. as secondary forms of ID if they are signed and stamped by consular officials. Under the agreement, the list of acceptable secondary documents was also expanded to include other supporting documents, such as copies of utility bills, paycheck stubs and letters relating to public assistance benefits, according to the families’ lawyers.

“We feel confident that undocumented parents with children born here will be able to access their children’s birth certificates,” said Marinda van Dalen, a staff attorney with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

See here and here for the background. The plaintiffs’ argument was that the state had no basis for changing its rules for what ID it would and would not accept, and the state’s defense to that argument didn’t resonate with the judge, so given all that a settlement seems like the best outcome all around. With the exception of the immigration executive order lawsuit, it hasn’t exactly been a great month in the courts for the state of Texas, has it? A statement from the Senate Hispanic Caucus is here, and the NYT and the Observer have more.

UIL punts again on transgender athletes

I say again, please reconsider this.

The debate over the University Interscholastic League’s policy for transgender athletes continues after the organization’s legislative council took no action during Tuesday’s meeting in Round Rock.

The UIL rule stating a student’s gender is identified by his or her birth certificate is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 1 after district superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor in February, but LGBT advocates believe the rule violates Title IX and the UIL Constitution.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin and abides by its constitution, which prohibits gender identity discrimination.

LGBT advocates are lobbying to allow students to participate in sports under whichever gender they identify with and delay implementation of the new policy. The UIL opted to table the debate for a later date considering pending litigation.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given the current climate of potty hysteria, I don’t expect the UIL to reconsider. I almost can’t blame them, however un-courageous they’re being. This one will be resolved in the courts, sometime after the policy becomes official in August. It’s just where we are these days.

Voter ID’s day before the full Fifth Circuit

Here we go again.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A top lawyer for Texas fiercely defended the state’s strictest-in-the-nation voter identification law on Tuesday, in a high-profile case that could ultimately determine at what point states that assert that they are protecting the integrity of elections cross over into disenfranchisement.

Standing before all 15 members of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller argued that judges were wrong to conclude in two previous rulings that the Texas Legislature discriminated against minority and low-income voters in passing a 2011 law that stipulates which types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls.

If those rulings are left as written, “all voting laws could be in jeopardy,” Keller said before a packed courtroom that included his boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Lawyers representing the U.S. Department of Justice, minority groups and other plaintiffs disagreed, asking the judges to affirm what a lower court — and a three-judge panel in this same courthouse — previously concluded: that Senate Bill 14 has a “discriminatory effect” on Hispanic, African-American and other would-be voters in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Only a handful of judges asked questions at length on Tuesday, making it difficult to know where the majority stands. But the 5th Circuit is considered among the nation’s most conservative, with 1o of its members having been appointed by Republican presidents.

Paxton left the courtroom Tuesday feeling “optimistic” that the law, “which has worked” in preventing voter fraud would survive, he told the Tribune.

“There’s been no discriminatory effect shown – they never provided any evidence,” Paxton said. “We’ve done everything we can to provide a way for people to vote. It’s clear.”

Chad Dunn, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said he wouldn’t bother trying to read the judges’ leanings based on their questions, but be nevertheless felt confident, calling the Texas law “indefensible.”

In the courtroom, opponents of the rul argued that not all voter ID laws violate the federal law, but that the state’s unusually short list of what election workers can accept at the polls is particularly burdensome for certain voters — particularly minorities.

“The question is whether there are requirements in SB 14 that are needlessly hard” for certain voters, Dunn told the judges. “The details of this law – which have never been justified — are what make this unconstitutional.”

See here for the background. You pretty much know the story by now, but if you want to engorge yourself on coverage from before the morning of the hearing, here’s the Trib, the Express News, the Associated Press, and Think Progress. The Fifth Circuit will issue a ruling when it is good and ready, but SCOTUS has indicated that there’s a July 20 deadline for deciding whether or not to put an injunction on the law for the November election or not. In the meantime, the Washington Post reminds us what it is like to be on the business end of this law:

In his wallet, Anthony Settles carries an expired Texas identification card, his Social Security card and an old student ID from the University of Houston, where he studied math and physics decades ago. What he does not have is the one thing that he needs to vote this presidential election: a current Texas photo ID.

For Settles to get one of those, his name has to match his birth certificate — and it doesn’t. In 1964, when he was 14, his mother married and changed his last name. After Texas passed a new voter-ID law, officials told Settles he had to show them his name-change certificate from 1964 to qualify for a new identification card to vote.

So with the help of several lawyers, Settles tried to find it, searching records in courthouses in the D.C. area, where he grew up. But they could not find it. To obtain a new document changing his name to the one he has used for 51 years, Settles has to go to court, a process that would cost him more than $250 — more than he is willing to pay.

“It has been a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Settles, 65, a retired engineer. “The intent of this law is to suppress the vote. I feel like I am not wanted in this state.”

If anyone can give me a good reason why Mr. Settles has to go through all that crap in order to be able tovote as he had been voting for nearly 50 years, I’d love to hear it. Actually, I’m tired of arguing the minutiae of this stupid law and its cousins. It’s way past time to establish voting as a constitutional right for all citizens of adult age. Either we’re a democracy or we’re just kidding ourselves. I prefer the former. Trail Blazers has more.

More on the UIL ban of transgender athletes

From ThinkProgress:

Transgender rights in Texas took another step backward last month, when public school superintendents voted 586-32 in favor of a rule that requires schools to use birth certificates to determine the gender of student-athletes.

This law is seen not only as “an attempt to handicap transgender student-athletes’ eligibility,” but it’s also believed to be a clear violation of Title IX.

“The Department of Education has stated that Title IX covers trans students and prohibits discrimination based on gender. Not only is [this policy] not in line with the law, but it also runs counter to the recommended policies by the National Center for Lesbian Rights,” Neena Chaudhry, the Senior Counsel and Director of Equal Opportunities in Athletics at the National Women’s Law Center, told ThinkProgress. “The recommendation is that children will be able to play on a team consistent with gender identity.”

With this ruling, Texas has become one of the least-inclusive states for transgender athletes.

Using students’ birth certificates, rather than their gender identities, to place them on a team has been an informal policy in Texas for some time. But in October, the University Interscholastic League — the governing body of Texas high-school sports — decided to send the policy to the superintendents for a vote. The results of that vote, which took place in January, were released by the Texas Observer last week. It will be officially enacted on August 1.


In 2014, the Department of Education (DOE) clarified that Title IX nondiscrimination protections did extend to transgender student-athletes. Christina Kahrl of ESPNreports that Texas is budget to receive $3.2 billion from the DOE in 2016 and 2017; that money could be lost if they are found in violation of Title IX. ThinkProgress reached out to the DOE for comment, but did not hear back by the time of publication.

“The goal of Title IX is to have an environment free of discrimination, so schools need to remember that and make sure they’re not discriminating against any of their students,” Chaudhry said.

See here and here for the background. That’s a lot of money potentially at stake here. One wonders if the school districts that voted to adopt this policy were briefed on that. (One also wonders what HISD thinks of this change, but so far there has been no local reporting on this that I know of.) Since this new policy won’t be formally adopted until August, it’s hard to say how long it might take for the Justice Department to act. It’s certainly not out of the question that the matter could be unresolved as of November, in which case the election may change things. I doubt President Trump’s Department of Education would care to enforce this. Be that as it may, that’s a lot of money at risk, for a change that did not need to be made. TransAthlete has more.

School districts vote to approve new UIL policy restricting transgender athletes


Despite strong opposition from LGBT advocates, representatives from Texas school districts have overwhelmingly endorsed a proposal aimed at barring transgender boys and girls from participating in athletics alongside their cisgender peers.

District superintendents and athletic directors voted 409-25 in favor of using birth certificates to determine student athletes’ gender, according to results obtained by the Observer through a request under the Texas Public Information Act.

The legislative council of the University Interscholastic League (UIL), the governing body for Texas high school sports, recommended the amendment in October, and district representatives’ ballots were due this month. According to UIL, if the amendment is approved by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, it would take effect in August.

“Because of the very detailed process UIL goes through, it’s usually a pretty clear-cut decision by the time it gets to the commissioner,” said Debbie Ratcliffe, director of media relations for the Texas Education Agency.

LGBT advocates say the amendment runs afoul of the UIL Constitution and Title IXof the U.S. Education Amendments of 1972.

The UIL is part of the University of Texas at Austin, and its constitution prohibits the legislative council or member districts from passing amendments that conflict with UT policy, which bans discrimination based on gender identity.

Both the council and the districts “had a duty to reject the amendment,” said Paul Castillo, a Dallas staff attorney for the LGBT civil rights group Lambda Legal.

Meanwhile, the federal Department of Education has said Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination applies to trans students, meaning the amendment could expose districts to legal liability, a federal investigation and loss of funds.

“These discriminatory athletic policies, they stigmatize transgender students by singling them out,” Castillo said. “Transgender students already face high rates of physical and verbal harassment at schools.”

See here for the background. It’s just a matter of time before a lawsuit gets filed over this, and I don’t know what the response will be if and when Title IX funds get threatened. I just hope it doesn’t get too messy or expensive when the trouble starts and this thing needs to get fixed. The Trib has 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.

Birth certificate denials only started happening recently

Funny how these things work, isn’t it?

Texas has for seven years said it won’t accept Mexican identification cards when issuing birth certificates for children of people in the United States illegally. But it doesn’t appear to have stepped up enforcement until recently, amid mounting political pressure to get tougher on immigration, records obtained by The Associated Press show.

That could validate complaints from immigrant parents suing in federal court, claiming the state is denying “birthright” U.S. citizenship for their Texas-born children guaranteed under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The AP used open records requests to get annual “self-assessment” surveys completed by local registrars. They show that officials in at least five cities and counties along the U.S.-Mexico border told the Texas Department of State Health Services during the past three years that they were allowing parents to get copies of birth certificates using a Mexican identification known as the matricula consular.

“Most of applicants are here illegally as they claim, and are therefore unable to obtain a valid form of identification from the United States,” Janie Madero, then-registrar in McAllen, wrote in a 2013 survey response. “Therefore our office accepts the matricula consular so they can obtain the birth certificate for their children who were born here.”


The Department of State Health Services oversees Texas’ Vital Statistics Unit. It reports issuing just one cease and desist letter to a county registrar in Brownsville who was accepting the matricula consular, and that didn’t come until this July.

Two months later, it wrote letters instructing against accepting the Mexican document in response to inquiries from registrars in Dallas and nearby McKinney.

Those three letters were all the state provided when asked for correspondence related to the matricula consular since 2008. Health services spokesman Chris Van Deusen subsequently said his department had “identified some additional communications with local registrars about the matricula” but that the lawsuit made those confidential.

When and how strictly Texas began enforcing its ID rules are important since more than two-dozen parents in the country illegally have sued, saying the state is effectively denying citizenship the U.S. Constitution guarantees to all born on U.S. soil.

Immigration attorneys suggest that the state only got serious about enforcement after women and children from Central America began pouring over Texas’ southern border last summer. Further raising the political stakes was President Barack Obama’s announced executive actions on immigration in November 2014, which sought to temporarily shield from deportation up to 4 million people in the U.S. illegally.

Efren Olivares, one of the lawyers representing immigrant parents suing, said there was a “tightening of the screws” amid Obama’s announcements and Central Americans crossing into Texas at record rates.

“We believe there is an intent behind this,” Olivares said.

See here, here, and here for some background. Basically, the state is trying to rewrite the rules while hoping that no one notices, but their actions belie their words. The only reason this is an issue now is because of politics. The bottom line is that everyone deserves a birth certificate, and last I checked the 14th Amendment was still in effect. It’s time for this charade to end.

Please rethink this, UIL

Bad idea.

The governing body for Texas high school sports decided Monday to ask superintendents to determine whether to formalize a policy that uses student-athletes’ birth certificates to determine their gender.

Such a policy already is informally used by the body, the University Interscholastic League, or UIL, whose 32-member legislative council on Monday passed on an opportunity to vote on the proposed rule. Instead, the council decided to send it to the superintendents of member districts — with a recommendation that they approve it.

Critics say the policy effectively bars transgender students from playing sports.


The UIL’s “Non-Discrimination Policy” already bans member schools from denying students a chance to play on sports teams because of their disability, race, color, gender, religion or national origin.

The proposed addition to that policy says: “Gender shall be determined based on a student’s birth certificate. In cases where a student’s birth certificate is unavailable, other similar government documents used for the purpose of identification may be submitted.”

If approved by a majority of superintendents — and the state education commissioner — it would take effect Aug. 1, 2016.


If approved, the rule would go against a national trend of recent years. More than a dozen states have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate in sports based on their gender identity.

The District of Columbia and 15 states, including Florida, have adopted such policies as a way to encourage participation in sports, said Asaf Orr, staff attorney for the Transgender Youth Project at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. He noted that the National Collegiate Athletic Association has adopted a similar policy.

The birth certificate rule Texas officials are considering “absolutely bars trans kids from playing sports,” Orr said.

Changing the gender on a birth certificate is not realistic for many kids because it requires having sex reassignment surgery, Orr said.

Orr said the concern that transgender girls will be far better players than those who were born female has not panned out in states that have adopted policies that allow transgender student-athletes to participate based on gender identity.

“We are not getting these hulking guys claiming to be girls dominating sports,” Orr said. “If we do, it’s because they’re superstar athletes; It’s not because they’re transgender.”

This feels to me like a policy born of ignorance and fear of backlash. I guess I can’t blame them for the fear, given the horror of the anti-HERO campaign in Houston and its shameful insistence of turning transgender folk into boogeymen, but it’s still wrong. What is the actual policy rationale for this? We have the example of the NCAA and 16 other high school sports authorities to follow. What problem does the UIL think Texas might face that these organizations and the athletes they represent have not faced or would not face? I don’t think the UIL can answer these questions, but it would be nice to at least hear them try. In the meantime, I hope they reconsider, and if they don’t, I hope HISD and other more enlightened districts opt out of that provision. If “non-discrimination” is to mean something, it has to have meaning for everyone.

Oral arguments in birth certificate lawsuit

Here we go.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by a group of undocumented parents and their U.S.-citizen children against the state Department of State Health Services, which has effectively blocked the children from obtaining birth certificates.

The families allege that the department has violated the children’s constitutional rights by ordering local county registrars to stop recognizing Mexican consular IDs — known as a matrícula consular — and foreign passports without valid visas, as proof of identification that the parents may use to obtain the vital records. The state argues the documents are susceptible to fraud.

“Is this a solution in search of a problem?” Pitman asked assistant attorney general Thomas Albright, representing the agency, health Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris. “What makes this burden necessary?”

Pitman’s remarks came after he told the state’s attorneys he would not allow them to debate the importance of birth certificates, a document he said was “the primary evidence of U.S. citizenship.”

The hearing came after the families asked for an emergency injunction ordering the health department to identify two acceptable forms of identification parents can use to obtain birth certificates.

Attorney Jennifer Harbury, representing the families, reiterated her belief that Texas changed its policies without warning in reaction to the national debate over illegal immigration that reached a fever pitch in 2011. After that, she said, Texas became the only state in the country to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting birth certificates.

But Albright said the families haven’t proven their case enough for Pitman to grant the emergency order, and instead said the issue should play out through a regular trial.

“There is no burden on us to say ‘We’re great. Our rule is perfect,’” he told Pitman. “Today is just one step in what is a longer process. I don’t think they’ve argued the proof that you need.”

Albright also focused on the Mexican matrícula, conceding it has been made more secure and tamper proof but saying it is still susceptible to fraud.

Harbury said the families would be amenable to a ruling that excluded that document from a list of approved items. Her argument, she said, is that nothing else is currently acceptable.

“Forty-nine other states accept another form [of ID],” she said.

Though he seemed to question more than one of the state’s claims, Pitman also appeared hesitant to make a decision without more information. It’s unclear when he will rule.

See here, here, here, and here for the background. If you get the impression that the state didn’t have the strongest argument for its defense, you wouldn’t be alone.

Judge Robert Pittman did not offer many clues about his feelings on the case during the three-hour hearing, but he did grill Albright about the extent of birth certificate fraud, asking several times whether the new state policy was a “solution in search of a problem.”

“If you’re asking if there’s some statistical analysis … I don’t have that,” Albright conceded.

He was quick to add, however: “That’s not my burden.”

Still, the judge did not grant the emergency order, and it is not clear when he will rule. So until then, things will continue to be as they were. The Observer has more.

Paxton’s contempt saga officially ends

I’m sure he’s so relieved.

Best mugshot ever

A federal judge has canceled next week’s contempt-of-court hearing for Attorney General Ken Paxton, saying it is not needed because Texas government agencies have begun acknowledging same-sex marriages.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia had ordered Paxton and a state health official to appear in his San Antonio courtroom last month to explain why the state was not listing same-sex marriages on death certificates. Garcia postponed that hearing until Sept. 10 after Paxton said state policies were being changed to allow same-sex marriages to be listed on all state documents, including birth and adoption records.

Paxton last week asked Garcia to cancel the postponed hearing, saying Texas was complying with his order to treat same-sex marriages no differently than opposite-sex unions.

Garcia agreed, saying in an order Tuesday that state officials were properly recognizing same-sex marriages as required by the U.S. Supreme Court’s June opinion that struck down all state bans on gay marriage.

Garcia, however, noted that his office had received letters complaining that gay couples were still being denied marriage licenses in a few counties he did not identify.

See here, here, and here for the background. It would be nice to have more details about those letters Judge Garcia received, but at this point it does seem like the system is finally working as it’s supposed to. If all else fails, Judge Garcia can always reschedule that hearing. He may now be in compliance, but it’s not clear to me that Paxton has learned anything from the experience.

Though that decision marks something of a win for Paxton, the attorney general’s first assistant bristled at the notion that it was even necessary.

“For better or worse, Tx was never ‘not complying,’” First Assistant Attorney General Chip Roy wrote on Twitter. “There was never basis for contempt hearing for AG or otherwise.”

All the legal wrangling came after Conroe resident John Allen Stone-Hoskins sued the state to amend his husband’s death certificate and add his name as a spouse. Pressure also mounted for the Department of State Health Services to address other such forms.

The death certificate of Stone-Hoskins’ husband, James, has since been amended. And Neel Lane, Stone-Hoskins’ attorney, said in August that fixing those documents “should be the final chapter” in the state recognizing the same-sex marriage ruling.

Garcia’s order did note complaints that some county clerks continue to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While pointing out those issues weren’t before the court, Garcia highlighted the attorney general’s pledge to not represent those clerks in litigation.

“The court expects that Ken Paxton … will utilize [his] unique position to ensure proper implementation of the law across the State of Texas,” Garcia wrote.

He’d better. And please spare us the whining, Chip. Go talk to people like John Stone-Hoskins about how they were being treated and see if you can stand by your statement. Someone needed to get Paxton’s undivided attention, and Judge Garcia was the one to do it. I’m very glad he did.

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.

State issues new guidelines for birth and death certificates

That was quick.

The state has issued new guidelines for filing and changing vital records to recognize same-sex marriage status, as ordered by a federal judge in San Antonio

In a court advisory filed late Wednesday, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Department of State Health Services said they believe the new guidelines comply with the June 26 Supreme Court ruling that found gay marriage legal in all 50 states and a July 7 order by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia that prohibits state agencies from enforcing Texas laws that bar same-sex marriage.

Officials also agreed to issue new birth certificates for the two sons of Leigh and Robin Jorgesen of Austin, who helped convince Garcia, of San Antonio, to order the state to act on vital records involving same-sex married couples.


The state’s advisory also tells the judge that “the processing of software modifications by the third-party vendor that hosts the platform for vital records will take additional time, which will impact the issuance of birth certificates.”

“Until that change is made, those requesting a birth certificate listing parents of the same sex may choose either to (1) obtain the standard birth certificate listing ‘mother’ and ‘father’ as well as an amendment to the birth certificate once the software modification is complete; or (2) obtain an original birth certificate allowing for the parents to be identified as ‘mother,’’father’ or ‘parent’ once the software modification is complete.”

See here for the background. Nothing like a little contempt of court order to focus the mind and make clear what one’s priorities are. It’s almost as if the state had the ability to have gotten this done in a timely fashion without needing to be threatened. I’m sure that couldn’t possibly be the case, though. Trail Blazers has more.

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.

Paxton avoids contempt hearing

He accomplished this by folding like a lawn chair on the issue of same-sex death and birth certificates.

Wednesday’s contempt of court hearing for Attorney General Ken Paxton and a state health official was canceled Monday after state officials agreed to allow death certificates to acknowledge same-sex marriages, a lawyer involved in the case said.

The state also agreed to issue new guidelines allowing same-sex couples to be listed as parents on a child’s birth certificate, said Neel Lane, the lawyer for a Conroe man who sued Texas to be listed as the husband on his male spouse’s death certificate.

The Trib fills in some details.

Best mugshot ever

The move came hours after Paxton asked U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia to quash an order requiring him and a top state health official to attend a contempt of court hearing on Wednesday. That hearing stemmed from a ruling last week by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia ordering state officials to recognize the same-sex marriage of a Conroe resident by naming him as the surviving spouse on his late husband’s death certificate.

Garcia also ruled that Paxton and Kirk Cole, interim commissioner of the Texas Department of State Health Services, should appear in court in San Antonio to determine whether they should be held in contempt for refusing to amend the death certificate.

In his ruling, Garcia said the state had violated a July decision that prohibited state officials from enforcing Texas’ now-defunct ban on same-sex marriages. That order was issued shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must recognize same-sex marriages.

A spokeswoman for the AG’s office confirmed the hearing had been canceled “while DSHS finalizes guidelines for the issuance of death certificates.”

A hearing is now scheduled for Sept. 10 to allow the state to finalize its revised policies.

And more from the Express-News:

During a telephone conference, lawyers for the state agreed to have a policy on death certificates ready by Thursday and one in place for birth certificates within two to three days, said Neel Lane, one of the San Antonio lawyers handling the litigation against the state.

U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia told Lane to confer with the state to review the policies and procedures to ensure that they do not discriminate against married same-sex couples. If Lane feels they are not adequate, he should inform Garcia, the judge ordered.

“DSHS is finalizing a policy related to the issuance of certain vital records within the next two days,” a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services said via e-mail. “We will work as quickly as possible to implement that policy. It will require communication with local registrars and facilities, changes to our processes and programming updates to the electronic vital records system.”

Lane’s client, John Allen Stone-Hoskins, who sued to force the state to list him as the surviving spouse on his husband’s death certificate, praised Garcia’s ruling and said Lane will help so the state “can no longer do this to any same-sex couple in birth or death.”


Behind the scenes, several sources told the San Antonio Express-News that federal marshals had been preparing to house Paxton and the head of DSHS — if found in contempt — in a jail other than the one downtown run by The Geo Group of Florida.

Excellent. Shame it took the threat of being held in contempt of court to make it happen, but at least it did happen. Kudos to Judge Garcia for making it expressly clear that he intended to tolerate no BS. Getting birth certificates included is a big deal as well. Paxton has a big mouth when it comes to these so-called “social issues”, but he has an equally big sense of self-preservation. He wasn’t going to the slammer. Congrats to the plaintiffs and attorneys that forced Paxton to cry “Uncle”.

UPDATE: Brian Chasnoff has more.

State Health Services department finally amends that death certificate


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.

I’m not the only one who thought the state’s response to the birth certificate lawsuit was specious

Actual legal experts didn’t think much of it, either.

The state of Texas can’t hide behind sovereign immunity to escape a lawsuit for denying birth certificates to U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants, the director of the University of Texas’ Transnational Worker Rights Clinic said Tuesday.

That state’s claim of immunity is mere “boilerplate,” said Bill Beardall, who also serves as executive director of the Equal Justice Center, and the lawsuit against the Department of State Health Services should proceed.

“The state filed a standard boilerplate response that states and state officials always file in these lawsuits,” Beardall said. “This is a form of discrimination.”


While some sovereignty claims have merit, Beardall said, U.S. Supreme Court case law includes precedents that private parties can sue state officials in their official capacities to enforce federal rights.

Michael Gerhardt, a professor of constitutional law at the University of North Carolina’s School of Law, said states often reply to lawsuits with an 11th Amendment argument. “It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s illegitimate, but it also doesn’t necessarily have merit,” he said.

Instead, it could be a part of what he calls the state’s “rich judicial history” that could influence how the case moves forward. He cites specifically Plyler v. Doe, the case where the Texas Legislature’s attempt to deny undocumented students access to public education was rejected by the Supreme Court. In essence, Gerhardt said, the court decided that the children should be admitted and not punished based on something their parents had done.

“It’s not hard to extrapolate from that that someone born in this country [is] going to be, presumably, a U.S. citizen,” he said. “In this case you’re talking about a federal right, and states cannot deny a federal right.”

See here and here for the background. The plaintiffs will file their response shortly, and the state will then respond to that response. I presume we’ll get a better idea of what their real argument is then. In the meantime, more plaintiffs are expected to join the suit. I suspect there’s no shortage of them to be found.

State wants birth certificate lawsuit dropped

I don’t know about that.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked a federal district judge to dismiss a lawsuit that claims a state agency violated the U.S. Constitution by denying birth certificates to U.S.-citizen children of immigrant parents.

Attorneys with Paxton’s office said that the Texas Department of State Health Services, which is being sued by 17 families living in Cameron, Hidalgo and Starr counties, has sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment and cannot be sued in federal court because it has not waived that right, according to court documents.

The immunity extends to interim DSHS Commissioner Kirk Cole and State Registrar Geraldine Harris, who are also named as defendants in the suit, Paxton’s office argues.

A spokesperson in Paxton’s office would not discuss the filing further, saying the “motion speaks for itself.” A spokesperson for the health agency was not available to comment.

See here and here for the background. This sounds specious, more like an ideological argument than a legal one, and a get-out-of-jail-free card if it’s upheld. But I’m not a lawyer, so what do I know?

[Lead plaintiffs’ attorney Jennifer] Harbury said Wednesday afternoon that her team would file a response after reading the state’s motion. The problem appears more widespread than just the families in the lawsuit, she said.

“What I know is there is a very large number of people who are afraid to come forward,” she said.

That would not surprise me. The Chron and the Observer have more.

More on the state’s refusal to issue birth certificates

The Observer follows up.

Two legislators have weighed in on the controversy over Texas’ refusal to grant birth certificates to some children of undocumented families. On Wednesday, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, sent a letter to Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Kirk Cole, referencing an Observer story published online Monday. He wrote that he was “alarmed” by the article as well as “a lawsuit that surfaced this week” over the agency’s refusal to issue birth certificates to people born in the United States.

At least 17 families have joined the lawsuit filed last month by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid attorney Jennifer Harbury and Texas Civil Rights Project attorney Jim Harrington.

In his letter to Cole, Hinojosa noted that 13 of the 17 plaintiffs are residents of Hidalgo County, in his Senate district. “By denying these birth certificates, DSHS is denying these children their U.S. citizenship. These children were born in the United States, are United States citizens, and are entitled to receive their own birth certificates.”

State Rep. Ramon Romero, Jr., D-Fort Worth, also sent a letter to Cole. “Any person born in Texas deserves all documentation and privileges concomitant with being both a United States and Texas citizen,” he wrote. “The U.S. Constitution speaks directly to the issue of birthright citizenship. It makes clear that birthright citizenship is a matter of constitutional right.”

Harbury says she’s grateful the legislators are weighing in on the matter. At the crux of the lawsuit is the state’s sudden decision not to honor the matricula consular, which is an official photo ID issued by Mexican consulates to Mexican nationals living in the U.S. In the past, Texas has deemed the matricula consular an acceptable form of ID.

In his letter to Cole, Hinojosa noted that the state’s “new policy” has never been “stated or even publicly proposed.”

See here for the background. What’s interesting is that while the Observer story from this week appears to be the catalyst for this issue getting wide attention, the lawsuit was filed in May. That happened as the Legislature was winding down and the state was getting walloped by floods, so perhaps it’s understandable that it went under the radar. Be that as it may, people are paying attention now. The DSHS claim that this has been their policy since 2008 seems awfully weak, and the evidence we have points to this being spurred on by the influx of Central American kids several months ago. Whatever the case, it’s clearly unconstitutional. The state is filing its response next week. I hope whoever the judge is will act quickly. Daily Kos, Hair Balls, and the Latin Post have 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.

Lawsuit filed over state refusal to issue birth certificates

I’m sure this won’t be contentious at all.

For nearly 150 years, the United States, under the 14th Amendment, has recognized people born here as citizens, regardless of whether their parents were citizens.

But Texas has other plans. In the last year, the state has refused to issue birth certificates to children who were born in Texas to undocumented parents. In May, four women filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Texas Department of State Health Services alleging constitutional discrimination and interference in the federal government’s authority over immigration.

Jennifer Harbury, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, who is representing the women, said the deluge of birth certificate refusals began last winter. “I’ve never seen such a large number of women with this problem,” she says. “In the past someone might be turned away, but it was always resolved. This is something altogether new.”

According to the lawsuit, the women who requested birth certificates for their children at the state’s vital statistics offices in Cameron and Hidalgo counties were turned away because of insufficient proof of their identities. State law allows the use of a foreign ID if the mother lacks a Texas driver’s license or a U.S. passport.

But employees at the offices, which are run by the Texas Department of State Health Services, told the women they would no longer accept either the matricula consular, which is a photo ID issued by the Mexican Consulate to Mexican nationals living in the U.S., or a foreign passport without a current U.S. visa. Undocumented Central American women are also being turned away because they only have a passport without a U.S. visa. “They are locking out a huge chunk of the undocumented immigrant community,” says Harbury.


James Harrington, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, is also representing the undocumented families. The legal team is seeking a court order to reinstate the use of the matricula consular and foreign passports as valid proof of identity for undocumented mothers.

“Even in the darkest hours of Texas’ history of discrimination, officials never denied birth certificates to Hispanic children of immigrants,” said Harrington in a written statement. “Everyone born in the United States is entitled to the full rights of citizenship.”

Here’s the Express-News story from May that the Observer post references; it has some more detail so read it as well. Just as a reminder, the 14th Amendment grants birthright citizenship, so I have no idea on what ground the Department of State Health Services thinks it has to stand. Here’s a bit from a press release from MALC that expands on that:

Recently, several parents were denied birth certificates for their U.S. born children by employees at offices administered by the Department of State Health Services, after administrators declined to accept their foreign government forms of identification. This is a major departure from prior practice, as parents had been able to obtain a copy of their child’s birth certificate by providing their passport or a consular ID from their country of national origin in lieu of a US-issued ID.

“The legal standing for this prerequisite is questionable. No section under Texas’s Health and Safety Code mandates that the Department require verification of immigrant status or national original before the issuance of a birth certificate to the parents of an American-born child. This practice also runs counter to the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which grants citizenship to all children born in the United States, regardless of whether their parents are citizens.

The full statement is here. I’d hope this would spur a quick reversal, but I know better than to expect it. We’ll see what the courts have to say. TPM has more.

Senate belatedly addresses one voter ID concern

Better really late and at least mildly coerced than never, I guess.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Senate, with scant attention during an early morning vote, gave its unanimous answer to a lingering question the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals posed about the state’s embattled voter ID law.

Among the first votes taken by the chamber on Monday was on Senate Bill 983, a measure sponsored by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Harris County Republican, that would allow Texans to show up at their county clerk’s office and get a free copy of their birth certificate – if they say it will be used to get an election ID certificate. The bill won approval, 31-0.

That response came after hard-line questioning from Judge Catharina Haynes, an appellate jurist who will be part of a team that will rule on the constitutionality of Texas’s voter ID law, which has earned national scrutiny and already made it to the U.S. Supreme Court once.

“They’re meeting right now. They had that opportunity. What are they doing?” said Haynes, an appointee of former President George W. Bush’s, during an April hearing. “Why wouldn’t the legislative system fix the rules? Why should we fix the rules?”

More than 600,000 Texans lack the proper identification to vote under the state’s relatively new voting laws, among the most stringent in the nation. Most people (some exceptions can be made for Texans with disabilities) must show one of the following: a driver’s license or ID card (though a student ID card won’t do), a concealed handgun license, a U.S. passport, a military ID card or a U.S. citizenship certificate with a photo. For the record, other states have more qualifying document options available to its eligible voters.

Texans who don’t have any of that, however, must request what’s called an “election identification certificate” to cast a ballot – but wait, there’s more. You have to show a birth certificate, which costs between $2 to $47, in order to obtain said election ID certificate.

That’s where SB 983 comes in. The Senate effectively has told the court that, under this proposal, the state would allow a person to get one free copy of their birth certificate to prove their citizenship, and thus get an election ID certificate.

See here and here for the background. It’s a baby step in the direction of making this law less onerous, though it does nothing to help anyone who doesn’t have a birth certificate (quite a few people who were born at home don’t) or who were born in another state (insert your own “long-form Hawaiian birth certificate” joke here). For sure, the only reason the Senate took this up is because of what Justice Haynes said, so just like someone who only buys a birthday present when reminded of the need and told exactly what to get, it’s hard to say how much credit they deserve for initiative. It also doesn’t address the issue of discriminatory intent, which is a whole ‘nother ball game. If the Republicans wanted to make a sincere effort to show that they didn’t mean to disenfranchise anyone, they could 1) allow out of state drivers licenses and student IDs to be used, and 2) spend some real money on an outreach program to provide election ID certificates to those who need them. Until then, you’ll forgive me if I view this with a helping dollop of cynicism.

Anchia birth certificate bill passes out of committee

Good news.

House Bill 537, by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), would allow same-sex parents to have both names on the birth certificates of adopted children.


On Monday, the committee quietly voted 7-4 to advance HB 537, with Cook and Rep. Patricia Harless (R-Spring) joining five Democrats who voted in favor of the bill. Four Republicans voted against it, while two others were absent.

“This is a simple, common-sense bill that helps children,” Equality Texas legislative specialist Daniel Williams said. “It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it passed with bipartisan support.

“At this point it will be a challenge to get the bill to the House floor before the deadline next week, but it’s still a realistic possibility,” he added.

See here and here for the background. This is a big achievement, even if the bill has long odds of even coming up for a vote on the House floor. Kudos to Rep. Anchia for his persistence and to Rep. Cook for giving the bill a fair chance.

On being transgender in Texas

Good story.

As celebrities like Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner and actress Laverne Cox seek to bring transgender issues to the mainstream, Texas is battling against the movement toward acceptance.

There is no single definition for “transgender.” Broadly, it refers to someone who identifies as a different gender than their sex at birth. How someone exhibits his or her gender depends on the individual. Some people make no outward physical changes, while others undergo extensive hormone therapy and surgery to change their sex to match their gender identity. People identify as a transgender man, meaning they were not born male but identify that way, transgender woman, or as “gender fluid” – somewhere in between. Sexual orientation is a separate question. For example, a trans woman may be attracted to men, or consider herself a lesbian and be attracted to women.

It is nearly impossible to estimate the number of transgender Americans. A 2011 study put the number at somewhere around 700,000, a number that is likely to grow as Americans develop a greater understanding of what it means to be transgender.

As their numbers grow, so do their support networks, especially in large urban areas. Houston has a number of locations, like the LGBT clinic The Montrose Center, that offer counseling for issues such as substance abuse and domestic violence specifically for transgender Texans. There are also a number of support groups across the state that cater to trans Texans and their families, and the Dallas Children’s Medical Center in February unveiled the region’s first pediatric program for transgender children.


Texas still has a long way to go to catch up to the likes of California and other states whose local and state leaders actively work to extend equal rights to their transgender citizens.

“I would say that we’re probably in the middle, towards the bottom,” said Lou Weaver, the transgender outreach specialist for LGBT rights group Texas Wins. “Obviously, it could be worse, but we’re not doing well as a state at all.”

Many agree one of the greatest barriers for many transgender Texans at this time is finding employment. Texas is one of 33 states in which it is legal to fire, or refuse to hire, someone for being transgender, Weaver said. There also are no state laws protecting transgender Texans from school bullying or housing discrimination. Many do not have access to necessary physical and mental health services, or the funds or insurance coverage for medical services to assist with transition.

“Rates of discrimination were alarming in Texas, indicating widespread discrimination based on gender identity,” read a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality. One in 10 respondents reported living on less than $10,000 a year, with one in four reporting they lost a job or were denied a promotion because they were transgender. Nearly half reported physical assault at school and verbal harassment in public places; 41 percent said they had attempted suicide at least once, 26 times the average for the general population.

The statistics are even bleaker for transgender Texans of color, who are far more likely to experience violence in their everyday lives. The Texas transgender community is actively working to reverse this trend, this weekend convening its annual conference in Dallas for black transgender men and women from across the county.

“The absolute, most prominent issue is our black and Hispanic transgender women being murdered and nothing being done about it,” said Colt Keo-Meier, a transgender man and licensed psychologist practicing in Houston. “That’s our No. 1 issue, keeping our people alive.”

State law does not include gender identity in its hate crime statute, making it impossible to track how many Texans are targeted for being transgender.

“Right now, there’s no consistency in justice,” said Bow, who said the “disproportionate treatment” transgender Texans receive largely is due to conflicting protections under the law. Transgender people are “tolerated,” she said, often because they’re ignored.

What I liked about this story, beyond the useful information in it, was that there were no “balancing” quotes from the Dave Welch/Jonathan Saenz crowd. Lord knows, that would not have added anything worthwhile. As we are doing nationally with gay rights, we will get to a point where transgender folks are an accepted and unremarkable part of mainstream society. I don’t know how long it will take, and I’m not saying it’s just going to happen without a lot of work from a lot of people, but it will happen.

Two anti-gay bills advance

Look out.


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.

Working for progress on LGBT issues

I’m always a little wary when I see a phrase like “chipping away” in a story about LGBT issues, but in this case it refers to obstacles, not hard-won victories, so it’s OK.


The rights and interests of homosexual Texans will be in the spotlight like never before next year, as the state’s same-sex marriage ban gets a long-awaited hearing in federal court and lawmakers take up a slate of bills that address everything from employment and insurance discrimination to local equal rights ordinances.

“In Texas, it’s very difficult with the makeup of the Legislature to pass anything,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston. “But it’s called chipping away – keep bringing the issue – until one day it passes.”


Daniel Williams, of Equality Texas, said he believes there is a “realistic opportunity” to pass legislation allowing both same-sex partners to be listed on birth certificates, and to remove a provision in state law that criminalizes sexual relationships between some same-sex teenagers.

Other bills have been filed to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in public school sex education classes, and for insurance companies and state contractors. Two bills, by [Sen. Jose] Rodriguez and his El Paso colleague Joe Moody, are seeking to remove from state law books an unconstitutional, unenforceable statute that criminalizes sodomy.

Williams also is interested to see whether Gov.-elect Greg Abbott will break with his predecessor by pushing state compliance with federal mandates to reduce the prison rape rate – which disproportionately impacts gay and transgender inmates – and whether more municipalities follow San Antonio, Houston and Plano’s lead in passing non-discrimination ordinances.

Don’t forget about Plano, too. There’s a reason all those hateful pastors are freaking out about this – they know they’re losing. Bills have been filed by Rep. Coleman and others to repeal Texas’ ban on same-sex marriage and to fix the birth certificate problem as noted, and there’s a broader organization being formed to help press the case in Austin. That’s all good and necessary and I have some hope as well, but I suspect that once all is said and done simply not losing ground will be seen as a win with this Legislature.

As for Sen. Donna Campbell’s effort to supersede local efforts by filing a resolution that would block any local rule or state law that infringes on “an individual’s or religious organization’s … sincerely held religious belief,” advocates think the business community will come out against it as they did against similar legislation in Arizona.

“Yes, you can talk about taking power away from those local leaders, but there’s going to be a lot of pushback from the local elected officials and their constituents,” said Jeff Davis, chairman of the Texas chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, a national group made up of gay members of the GOP and their allies. He said Campbell’s resolution likely would generate “a lot of talk,” but he believes the effort “isn’t going to move completely forward.”

Meanwhile, religious leaders waging a legal battle against Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance are banking on the increasingly-conservative Legislature to support their efforts. While they await a 2015 court date to determine whether enough signatures were gathered to force a local referendum on the Houston ordinance, they have turned their eyes to Plano, which passed a similar ordinance earlier this month.

“These ordinances are solutions looking for a problem,” said David Welch, director of the Houston-based Texas Pastors Council, which filed a petition against the Plano ordinance this week. “It is a special interest group representing a tiny fraction of the population using the power of law to impose their lifestyle and punish those that disagree with them.”

He said the council will continue to work with lawmakers on legislation that could undo these ordinances at the state level, as well as reaffirm current law that enshrines marriage as between one man and one woman.

It would be nice if the business lobby puts some pressure on to kill not just Campbell’s bill but all of the pro-discrimination bills that Campbell and others are filing, but don’t expect me to have any faith in their efforts. At least as far as constitutional amendments go, there are enough Democrats to keep them off the ballot, barring any shenanigans or betrayals. It would be nice to think that Republicans can play a key role in preserving existing protections, if not expanding them, but there’s no evidence to support that idea at this time with this Legislature. We need to win more elections, that’s all there is to it. Let’s make it through this session unscathed and get started working on that part of it ASAP. BOR has more.

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’s about the people who don’t have ID

We’ve had plenty of blue-sky stories telling us that the voter ID law has been no big deal. A few provisional ballots and some number of affidavits, sure, but everyone who’s wanted to vote has been able to vote, right? Sure, as long as they had one of the accepted forms of ID. But what about the people who don’t have them?

Gracie Sills is one such person. Here’s her story.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The “secondary identification” category is something the vast majority of Texans are virtually certain not to have two of.

As fortune would have it, my daughter Graciela Sills was born in Austin, Texas on Nov. 5, 1995. She thus became a 2013 voting baby, qualified by virtue of turning 18 on the very day of the first statewide election under the controversial Texas “voter ID” law.

Guided by a well-meaning Dad who participates in Texas politics as part of his living, my daughter’s first adult experience at a polling place was to get rejected.

It’s an off-year election, but Gracie was excited about getting her voice heard on constitutional amendments, local housing bonds and a special election in Texas House District 50. She also wanted to vote early for an arcane reason – to take advantage of a rare chance to start exercising the franchise legally at age 17.

In Texas, you can’t register to vote until you are within 60 days of your 18th birthday, so the window for registering in Gracie’s circumstances was as short as it gets. My boss, Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller, personally and with much delight handed Gracie the voter registration card that she used to mail in the application. The Secretary of State’s web site showed Gracie registered by early October, and a voter registration card arrived well ahead of early voting.

Like a growing number in her generation, Gracie decided to put off getting a driver license. Her reasoning: It takes a lot less road time to get the license after one turns 18. My suspicion: The idea of spending 30 or 40 hours being drilled on the fine points of three-point turns and parallel parks by her parents didn’t appeal to her. While the actuaries may have to take my daughter into account when setting auto insurance rates in the future, the relevant fact is that Gracie lacks the most common form of identification needed to vote.

We went to vote early as a family on Saturday, however, bringing Gracie’s passport instead, which we knew was a legitimate form of ID under the Texas “voter ID” law. To our horror, we discovered that unlike adult passports that last a decade, passports that are obtained by children when they are less than 16 are good only for five years. Gracie’s had expired in July.

My daughter didn’t have a valid photo ID for voting purposes. No driver license. No personal ID card from the Department of Public Safety. No U.S. citizenship certificate. No passport. No concealed handgun license. No military identification. The photo ID card from school was useless.

Gracie did eventually get one of the free DPS voter ID cards. Lots of Americans her age are deferring getting their drivers license. Driving is expensive, and in case you haven’t noticed the economy has been especially rough on the millennial set. Plus, a lot of them are more environmentally conscious than the rest of of us are, and would rather walk, bike, or take public transit. Why should anyone have to drive in order to vote? If the Lege had allowed student IDs to be used for voter ID, it would solve the problem for a lot of folks like Gracie. But they didn’t.

Older folks also have problems with voter ID, for the same reason – not having a drivers license. One such person is former Speaker Jim Wright.

Former House Speaker Jim Wright was denied a voter ID card Saturday at a Texas Department of Public Safety office.

“Nobody was ugly to us, but they insisted that they wouldn’t give me an ID,” Wright said.

The legendary Texas political figure says that he has worked things out with DPS and that he will get a state-issued personal identification card in time for him to vote Tuesday in the state and local elections.

But after the difficulty he had this weekend getting a proper ID card, Wright, 90, expressed concern that such problems could deter others from voting and stifle turnout. After spending much of his life fighting to make it easier to vote, the Democratic Party icon said he is troubled by what he’s seeing happen under the state’s new voter ID law.

“I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote,” Wright told the Star-Telegram. “I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”

Wright and his assistant, Norma Ritchson, went to the DPS office on Woodway Drive to get a State of Texas Election Identification Certificate. Wright said he realized earlier in the week that the photo identifications he had — a Texas driver’s license that expired in 2010 and a TCU faculty ID — do not satisfy requirements of the voter ID law, enacted in 2011 by the Legislature. DPS officials concurred.

But Wright and Ritchson will return to the office Monday with a certified copy of Wright’s birth certificate, which the DPS employees assured them would be good enough for the Texas personal identification card, designed specifically for people who do not drive.

Older folks often give up or don’t renew their drivers licenses when it becomes too difficult or expensive for them to drive. Unlike someone Gracie’s age, they do have the option of voting by mail, which doesn’t require ID. But a lot of these folks have been voting for fifty, sixty, seventy years, and voting to them means going to the ballot box and casting a vote in person, like they have always done. Why shouldn’t they be able to do this?

Now, both of these stories have happy endings. Gracie Sills and Jim Wright were able to get the IDs they needed in time to vote. Good thing they decided to vote early – if they’d started out today, like many people will, they would have had to cast a provisional ballot, then go through the bother of trekking to their election administrator’s office to make their votes count. They’re also both politically connected people – Gracie is the daughter of AFL-CIO Communications Director Ed Sills – who knew their rights and didn’t get discouraged along the way. How many people who are used to just showing up and voting won’t be so well placed? Maybe it won’t be that many today, but I bet it will be a lot more next year if this law is allowed to stand. All in the name of preventing something that basically never happens. Well, that’s the stated reason, anyway. We know what the real reason is. I feel confident saying that objective will be met.