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Equality Texas

Senate will hold bathroom hearing tomorrow

They just can’t wait. From the inbox:

BREAKING: The Senate State Affairs Committee is pushing for a hearing on anti-transgender “bathroom bill” legislation this Friday at 9AM, Charles.

Intel from the Capitol tells us that Sen. Lois Kolkhorst will introduce a FOURTH discriminatory “bathroom bill” later today. That’s the bill that the Senate State Affairs Committee will consider Friday morning.

That only gives us 24 hours between when the bill is dropped and when it gets a Senate committee vote to stop this anti-transgender measure in its tracks.

With lawmakers moving fast and furious in efforts to ram through legislation that would blatantly legalize discrimination against transgender Texans—we can’t waste a single minute.

Rush a message to Texas lawmakers—right now—and make your voice heard loud and clear: I oppose anti-transgender “bathroom bills!”

 

You remember Sen. Lois Kolkhorst? She’s one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top cronies and the lead sponsor on SB 6—legislation from regular session that would have instated a blanket ban on transgender people in public bathrooms.

Texas’ SB 6 was the near twin to North Carolina’s disastrous HB 2.

And now, the mastermind behind that devastating legislation is coming back for a second shot at making anti-transgender discrimination state law in Texas.

We can’t know how far Sen. Kolkhorst’s new bill (expected to drop tonight) will go. But we know that the only way to defeat it is to mobilize a groundswell grassroots opposition—starting now.

Rush a message to your lawmakers right now and urge them to stand with you and an overwhelming number of Texans and reject discriminatory “bathroom bills.”

Your lawmakers answer to you. Hold them accountable.

You know, Patrick aimed to organize a bunch of wingnut pastors and their congregations in support of this atrocity, but to whatever extent he did that, the people who have been showing up en masse to express their view on this have been overwhelmingly against it. Maybe that effort was more talk than action, and maybe Patrick’s minions figure they don’t have to do any work to get what they want, it will just be done for them, I don’t know. What I do know is that if the Lege has been listening, they’ve heard loud and clear what the people do and don’t want. It’s up to them to act accordingly, and for us to reinforce that lesson at the ballot box next year.

More on the House bathroom bill

Still a very bad idea.

After largely avoiding discussions so far on proposals to regulate bathrooms, the Texas House will wade into the debate this week with a measure some are hoping will serve as an alternative to the Senate’s “bathroom bill.”

Setting aside the Senate’s proposal, the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday will take up House Bill 2899, which will be revised during the hearing to ban municipalities and school districts from enacting or enforcing local policies that regulate bathroom use.

That would invalidate local trans-inclusive bathroom policies, including anti-discrimination ordinances meant to allow transgender people access to public bathrooms based on gender identity and some school policies meant to accommodate transgender students.

“We believe that those issues should be handled at the state level and if there is an issue that exists in the state that people need to come to the Capitol, they need to convince 76 representatives, 16 senators and one governor of what the policy needs to be,” said state Rep. Ron Simmons, R-Carrollton, who authored the bill. “Until then, it’s my opinion, we don’t need to change.”

Unlike Senate Bill 6 — a legislative priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick which passed out of the Texas Senate in March — Simmons’ proposal does not regulate bathroom use in governments buildings and public schools and universities based on “biological sex.” And it strays from SB 6’s blanket prohibition on “political subdivisions” adopting or enforcing local bathroom regulations.

Instead, the language of Simmons’ proposal specifically focuses on discrimination protections. It reads: “Except in accordance with federal and state law, a political subdivision, including a public school district, may not enforce an order, ordinance, or other measure to protect a class of persons from discrimination to the extent that the order, ordinance, or other measure regulates access to multiple-occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities.”

That would nullify parts of nondiscrimination ordinances in several Texas cities that have been in place for decades to protect certain classes of people from discrimination in public accommodations, including in the bathrooms inside businesses that serve the public. But Simmons’ proposal could go further than just pulling back those protections for transgender residents.

While Texas has no statewide public accommodation law, federal law protects people from discrimination in public accommodations based on “race, color religion or national origin.”

Some of Texas biggest cities have expanded the public accommodation provision of local anti-discrimination laws to include protections based on age, sexual orientation and veteran status. But it appears Simmons’ proposal would outlaw those sort of protections as applied to bathroom use because they go beyond federal protections.

Simmons’ focus on discrimination protections also differs from North Carolina’s law, which was recently revised amid public and economic backlash.

The North Carolina law was rewritten to no longer explicitly regulate which bathroom transgender people can use and instead more simply prohibits state agencies, municipalities and schools boards from regulating multi-stall bathrooms — leaving bathroom regulations to the state.

That revisions remain unacceptable to LGBT advocates. And the Simmons proposal — which only bans local measures that protect certain groups from discrimination — is still a no-go for groups advocating for LGBT Texans. They suggested the Simmons’ measure is actually worse than the alternative that was recently signed off on in North Carolina because they believe it leaves open the door for local policies that target marginalized groups.

“I recognize there are members in the House that are looking for some sort of alternative to Senate Bill 6, but this proposed committee substitute is not acceptable in its current form,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. “This proposal literally codifies discrimination in Texas law by forbidding enforcement of policies that would protect people by preventing them from ever implementing protections in the future and by allowing discriminatory provisions to be written in.”

It remains unclear how far the Simmons proposal will go in the House and whether it’ll pick up support from Speaker Joe Straus who opposes the Senate’s proposal.

See here for the background. I repeat what I said before – this is a lousy “solution” to a non-problem. HB2899 is “better” than SB6 in the same way that the House “sanctuary cities” bill is “better” than the Senate version, which is to say it’s the difference between eating a turd sandwich on a fresh baked baguette and eating a turd sandwich on Wonder bread. We all know what the arguments are here, so let’s not waste our energy on that. The goal here is either to find something that will meet the grudging approval of the business lobby and the major sports leagues (which have already sold out in North Carolina), or to throw a bone to the Dan Patrick crowd by holding a committee hearing on something but not bringing it to the floor. I’d bet on the former before the latter, so call your House Committee on State Affairs member and let them know what you think of this. This will be heard tomorrow, so don’t wait.

Let the clerks out of it

I approve of this.

The state’s leading LGBT advocacy group has thrown its support behind a bill that would accommodate county clerks with religious objections to same-sex marriage.

Under Senate Bill 911, by state Senator Joan Huffman, R-Sugar Land, marriage licenses in Texas would no longer specify the names of clerks who issue them, instead listing only the counties where they’re obtained.

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, said though he hasn’t spoken with anyone from Huffman’s office about SB 911, his group is supporting the bill as “a simple solution.”

“If there are county clerks who want to make a stink, then this proposed legislation cuts their feet off,” Smith said. “Your name isn’t on it [the license]. Nobody would know. Do your job.”

[…]

SB 911 is one of at least four proposals in the 85th Legislature dealing with county clerks and marriage licenses. Others would allow clerks to opt out of issuing licenses to same-sex couples altogether, in some cases forcing them to travel to adjacent counties, which experts say would run afoul of the Obergefell decision.

“The delivery of the service, the access to a license, has to be the same for all people, and if that can be accomplished, we are supportive of that,” Smith said. “I would suggest that [SB 911] is the solution to eliminate any of the other proposed legislation related to county clerks or related to marriage licenses that we would oppose.”

The story notes the Hood County saga, and quotes the Irion County Clerk, who allows that this might satisfy the objections of people like her. I personally don’t think that County Clerks should need to be accommodated in this way since none of this is about them, but whatever. If something as simple as this will get the complainers to knock it off, then I’m all for it.

This is not how you put the interests of the child first

It’s the opposite of that, honestly.

Rep. James Frank

Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, vice chairman of the House Human Services Committee, has authored House Bill 3859, which would protect faith-based providers from retaliation if they assert their “sincerely held religious beliefs” while caring for abused and neglected children.

The bill would include allowing faith-based groups to deny a placement if it’s against their religious beliefs; place a child in a religion-based school; deny referrals for abortion-related contraceptives, drugs or devices; and refusing to contract with other organizations that go against their religious beliefs.

Frank said the his bill is meant to give “reasonable accommodations” for faith-based groups and not meant to be exclusionary. He said the ultimate goal is to help find the right home for kids.

Faith-based organizations are closing their doors to foster children “because they can’t afford to stay in business when they’re getting sued on stuff,” Frank said. “They’re basically being told to conform or get out on stuff that’s important but it’s not core to taking care of foster homes.”

[…]

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, an LGBT rights group, said he was scared of HB 3859 after watching similar legislation become law in Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia. He said Frank’s bill allows the possibility of children being denied services because of what a provider believes and that would not fly if it were any other state contractor.

“Any piece of legislation that would allow the personal or religious beliefs of a provider to override the best interest of the child is misplaced and I would suggest is a gross change in what religious liberty actually means,” Smith said.

[…]

Bee Moorhead, executive director of Texas Impact, said it’s all about the most effective group getting the contract and following the state’s rules. However, she said if legislators are keen to give more protections, there needs to be a sit-down meeting with lawmakers and all of the faith-based groups. She said not all groups have the same needs and many feel current religious protections are enough. Texas Impact has not taken a position on HB 3859.

“This isn’t a topic that lends itself well to sound bites,” Moorhead said. “It’s too easy for politicians and advocates to short change the policy in favor of a glib soundbite and not realize the politics are too complicated and the stakes are too high.”

Not to mention “the devil is in the details” with HB 3859, said Joshua Houston, director of government affairs for Texas Impact. He pointed out allowing groups protection if they have “sincerely held religious beliefs” can apply to views on physical discipline, diets, medical care, blood transfusions, vaccinations and how boys and girls are treated. He said that kind of ambiguity is what made Roloff untouchable for decades.

“When you say ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ you’re opening the door wide,” Houston said. “There’s all kind of weird religious beliefs that are out there.”

I can’t put the objections to this bill any better than Chuck Smith and Joshua Houston did. The article opens with the story of Lester Roloff, who was once the poster child for why “sincerely held religious beliefs” are not a sufficient reason for something to be sanctioned by the state. Like SB6, this bill may not make it to the floor for a vote but could get attached to another bill as an amendment by those who are determined to push this boundary. Let’s please not create a new (and almost certainly worse) Lester Roloff for this generation.

“It’s harder to paint us as monsters when there’s a human face on it”

Words of wisdom from one very dedicated and engaged citizen.

Stephanie Martinez

Monday marked Stephanie Martinez’s 12th time participating in a lobby day hosted by Equality Texas at the Capitol. But this session, in response to Senate Bill 6, the 48-year-old transgender woman from Austin felt compelled to do more.

After waiting 16 hours to testify against the anti-trans “bathroom bill” during a Senate committee hearing March 7, Martinez called the offices of all 31 senators to encourage them to vote against SB 6.

She said she was “shocked” when she received a return phone call from the office of Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, the lone Democratic senator to support the bill, who requested a personal meeting. Lucio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

When they met last week, Martinez said Lucio told her she was the first trans person he’d spoken to one-on-one, which inspired her next campaign. Beginning last Thursday, Martinez visited the offices of all 181 members of the Texas Legislature over three days, using vacation time from her job as a programmer at AT&T.

“I decided I could not let this session go forward without visiting every office and saying, ‘I’m here, I’m real, I’m a Texan, I’m transgender, and this bill would hurt me,’” Martinez said. “It’s harder to paint us as monsters when there’s a human face on it.”

Read the whole thing, which includes a report from the Equality Texas Lobby Day. I sure hope Stephanie Martinez is right that by meeting with all the legislators, or at least their staffs, she is putting a human face on something they have been blithely abstract about, if they had given the matter any thought at all. Unfortunately, as the incredibly mean-spirited and downright un-charitable comments made by the likes of Sen. Lois Kolkhorst – who as literally one of the most powerful people in the state has no business claiming to be “persecuted” – and her ideological cohort in this story make clear, she has her work cut out for her. As do we all. I stand in awe of Stephanie Martinez’s effort and commitment.

There’s more than SB6 to watch out for

Keep an eye out for other anti-LGBT bills, because any of them might pass even if SB6 goes down.

With the media seemingly preoccupied by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, three Republican state senators have quietly introduced a sweeping anti-LGBT “religious freedom” measure.

Senate Bill 651, filed last week, would bar state agencies that are responsible for regulating more than 65 licensed occupations from taking action against those who choose not to comply with professional standards due to religious objections.

Eunice Hyon Min Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the ACLU, said SB 651 would open the door to rampant discrimination against LGBT people, women seeking reproductive health care and others. Rho said the bill could lead to doctors with religious objections refusing to perform medical procedures, teachers not reporting child abuse if they support corporal punishment, or a fundamentalist Mormon police officer declining to arrest a polygamist for taking underage brides.

“This is incredibly broadly written,” said Rho, who monitors religious freedom legislation across the country. “It’s just really alarming. There are no limitations to this bill.”

Rho said only one state, Arizona, has passed a similar law, but unlike SB 651 it includes exceptions related to health care and law enforcement. She also warned that anti-LGBT state lawmakers may be trying to use the bathroom bill as a distraction.

“I think because some of the bills are receiving more attention than others, it’s a way for them to sneak some stuff through with a little bit less fanfare,” Rho said. “This is a tactic we’ve seen in countless states.”

[…]

As of Thursday, nine anti-LGBT bills had been filed in the 2017 session, according to Equality Texas, compared to at 23 in 2015. But there were indications that additional anti-LGBT “religious freedom” proposals are coming before the March 10 filing deadline.

Take a look at that Equality Texas list, and if you’ve gotten yourself into the habit of calling your legislators, add the bad bills there to your recitations. There’s nothing subtle about any of this, but with SB6 taking up all the oxygen, there’s cover for those bills. They would allow discrimination of the Woolworth’s lunch counter kind, and they cannot be allowed to pass.

Artists against SB6

I’m glad to see this, but I have some questions.

More than 135 musicians and artists are joining the chorus of opposition against Texas’ so-called “bathroom bill.”

Singers and other artists including Lady Gaga, Cyndi Lauper, Alicia Keys have signed onto an open letter asking Texas lawmakers to stand down from passing Senate Bill 6 and other anti-LGBT legislation under consideration by the state legislature. The letter was also signed by actors including Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, Jimmy Kimmel, Ewan McGregor, George Takei, and Amy Poehler.

“Please know that the creative community is watching Texas, with love for all of its people and for its contributions to music, art and culture,” the letter reads. “We are deeply troubled by the current legislation that would target the LGBTQ community in Texas.”

The letter singles out Senate Bill 6 — which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools and government building based on “biological sex” and would override local laws that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity — and a similar measure, House Bill 1362. But it also mentions other legislation that advocates have flagged as discriminatory or harmful toward LGBT residents.

The letter is here, and it is being actively circulated so more names will be added to it. There are links from there to donate to Equality Texas and send an email to a legislator, both of which are fine though we know by now that calling is a much more effective tactic, at least if you can get through. There’s no indication that the people who signed are promising to take any action beyond “watching” if SB6 passes; the Trib story notes that some of the musicians have Texas tour dates on their calendars, but that’s about it. Perhaps it’s a bit premature to talk about specific actions, but others have done so already. I would have liked to have heard something more direct about future plans; maybe that will come later.

The email I received with the announcement of the letter included the note that “Signatories with Texas roots include Sarah Jaffe, Girl In A Coma, Natalie Maines, St. Vincent, FEA, and Guster”. I would hope that other Texas artists – many of them – will step up and include themselves as well. If they live here, they can vote here, and that would be the most powerful action they can take. The Chron has more.

Yes, SB6 targets transgender people

That is its purpose.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst

The author of the so-called bathroom bill said she is working on potential changes after listening to people “from all walks of life,” emphasizing that her measure is aimed not at the transgender people it would affect but at men who might assert a right to go into women’s restrooms for perhaps nefarious purposes.

“It’s really not about the transgender. It’s about other people that will abuse that. And that side of it’s not been told very well,” Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Bren-ham, said, citing discussions with “lots of women.”

There is no evidence of a transgender person assaulting anyone in a restroom in Texas, and transgender advocates see the measure as indisputably targeting them.

[…]

Chuck Smith, chief executive officer of Equality Texas, said of Kolkhorst’s remarks, “I think it’s probably certainly indicative that she is getting a lot of feedback/pushback related to it. I’m happy that she’s recognizing that there are concerns with the legislation, and I’d welcome the opportunity to share our concerns with her as well.”

Let’s be very clear: By definition, the reference in SB6 to “biological sex” targets transgender people. There’s no way around that. Whatever the intent of the bill, the only way to not target transgender people is to not have any part of the bill apply to people based on their “biological sex”. Take that out and then we can talk. I too am glad that Sen. Kolkhorst recognizes that her bill is problematic. Now do something about that, Senator. The Press has more.

Patrick plunges ahead with his potty bill

Brace yourselves.

After months of sparring over whether transgender Texans should be allowed to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Thursday officially set the legislative stage for the debate.

Following North Carolina’s lead, Texas Republicans announced Senate Bill 6, which would require transgender people to use bathrooms in public schools, government buildings and public universities based on “biological sex” and would pre-empt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“We know it’s going to be a tough fight,” Patrick said at a Capitol news conference announcing the bill. “But we know we’re on the right side of the issue. We’re on the right side of history. You can mark today as the day Texas is drawing a line in the sand and saying no.”

Patrick said his support for the legislation is based on privacy concerns, arguing that such policies allow men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms.

Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham, who will guide the bill through the upper chamber, said SB 6 would still allow for schools to accommodate transgender students on a case-by-case basis. But public entities that violate bathroom policies based on “biological sex” will be subject to a civil penalty imposed by the state attorney general.

It also appears to essentially exempt convention centers, stadiums and entertainment venues. The legislation would not apply if “if the location owned by a government entity is privately leased to an outside entity,” which is often the case for those sort of venues, Kolkorst said.

The exemption for “convention centers, stadiums and entertainment venues”, which was telegraphed a month ago, appears to be a sop to the business community, to try to buy their acquiescence. We’ll just have to see if it works. The direct attack on municipal anti-discrimination laws is not unexpected, but hasn’t been a focal point of the conversation before now. There will be much more to say about this as we go on, and believe me when I say I hope this all turns out to have been a tempest in a training potty, but for now I think the Lone Star Project has the best response:

“Any statement by Dan Patrick on the health and safety of Texas children should start with an apology for those he has let die on his watch.

“Since Patrick took office, nearly 800 Texas kids have died due to abuse or neglect while in the care of Child Protective Services. Patrick has served in five legislative sessions and has done nothing to help these Texas kids. Patrick’s top ten list of priorities specifically excludes fixing the failed Child Protective Services system.

“Dan Patrick’s only real priority is his political career. There’s no Texan he won’t exploit or neglect to advance himself.”

That’s what I’m talking about. I’ve expressed my concerns about the business community going weak if thrown a bone or two, so this response from the Texas Association of Business is encouraging.

Keep Texas Open for Business strongly opposed Senate Bill 6, calling out the just-filed “Texas Privacy Act,” as discriminatory, anti-business, and unnecessary legislation that is poised to have an immediate and detrimental impact on Texas’ economy. The bill is strikingly similar to North Carolina’s HB 2 law. Both pieces of legislation ban transgender people from using public school, university, and government building restrooms, and prohibit municipalities from passing transgender-inclusive public accommodations policies. The North Carolina law has cost the state nearly one billion dollars in lost economic revenue in just under 10 months.

“All Texans care deeply about safety and privacy, but Senate Bill 6 isn’t about either of those things,” said Chris Wallace, President of the Texas Association of Business (TAB), which leads the Keep Texas Open for Business coalition. “Senate Bill 6 is discriminatory and wholly unnecessary legislation that, if passed, could cost Texas as much as $8.5 billion in GDP and the loss of more than 185,000 jobs in the first year alone.”

“Our communities, our families and businesses across this state face a far more uncertain future if this kind of unnecessary regulation is enacted here. We cannot afford the real human consequences and staggering economic impact of slamming the door on the Texas’ history of openness, competitiveness, economic opportunity and innovation,” added Wallace.

Supporters of SB 6 claim its “unique to Texas”, but the legislation is fundamentally identical to the bathroom and municipal non-discrimination provisions in North Carolina’s HB 2. That law has resulted in companies like PayPal, Deutsche Bank and CoStar pulling jobs and planned investments from the state. Performers and sporting events also have fled North Carolina in the wake of HB 2 – with the NBA, NCAA, and ACC all pulling major championship events that were poised to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars to local economies.

“The so-called Texas Privacy Act won’t make restrooms any safer for men, women and children, and it will do far more harm to them than good. This legislation will needlessly jeopardize jobs, investment, innovation and tax revenue for our state, and it sullies our reputation as an open, inclusive and welcoming state. It is also wholly unenforceable and unsupported by any public safety evidence, and will create situations that invade the privacy of Texans from all walks of life.”

Wallace said that Keep Texas Open for Business and Texas Association of Business would welcome the opportunity to discuss meaningful ways the business community could work with state leaders to address serious, well-documented personal and public safety concerns like online predators, online privacy, and campus safety, while ensuring Texas does not enact discriminatory legislation that will spark statewide boycotts.

Now we need to convince these guys that they need to actually oppose the elections of legislators (and Lite Guvs) that support SB6, because as long as there are no consequences for these actions, there will be no changes in behavior. This is a good start, though.

Equality Texas is going to be at the forefront of this fight, so if you’re looking for a place to direct your activism efforts or dollars, go give them a hand – two immediate opportunities to Do Something are here and here. Texas Competes will also be in the mix on the business side. Patrick is way more out in front of this than either Joe Straus or Greg Abbott, and whatever happens I feel like we’re going to see this play out in next year’s Republican primaries. But let’s not get distracted – first this needs to be killed with fire. Do not sit idly by. Get involved and make your voice heard. Texas Monthly, the Chron, the Current, the Observer, the Austin Chronicle, Texas Leftist, and the DMN have more.

Republicans take their desperate shot at limiting same sex marriage

Pathetic.

RedEquality

After coming out on the losing end of a United States Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, Texas Republican leaders are now looking to the Texas Supreme Court to narrow the scope of that landmark ruling.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday filed an amicus brief with the Texas Supreme Court urging the all-Republican court to reconsider a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. It appears they’ve set their eyes on the Houston case as a way to limit the effect of the high court’s ruling.

The Texas Supreme Court has already had a say in the case challenging Houston’s benefits policy, which was extended to same-sex spouses of city employees. In a 8-1 ruling, the court in September declined to take up the case, letting stand a lower court decision that upheld the benefits for same-sex couples.

In asking the Texas Supreme Court to re-open the Houston case, state’s leaders in their brief also urged the court to clarify that the case that legalized same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.”

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that marriages between couples of the same sex cannot be prohibited by states, overriding Texas’ long-standing ban on same-sex marriage.

Abbott, Patrick and Paxton in their brief argue that Obergefell does not include a “command” that public employers “take steps beyond recognizing same-sex marriage — steps like subsidizing same-sex marriages (through the allocation of employee benefits) on the same terms as traditional marriages.”

See here and here for the background. I have no idea why they think the Supreme Court is any more likely to take this up now than the last time, but what do I know. And if this does somehow make it past the State Supreme Court, I have a feeling the federal courts will be there to swat it back down. I don’t even know what to say at this point, so go read this statement from Equality Texas about this fiasco. The Press and the Current have more.

Business owners tell Dan Patrick to back off on bathrooms

More like this, please.

Saying Texas Republican leaders are threatening jobs and the economy, more than 200 small-business owners issued an open letter Tuesday urging legislators to abandon plans for a state law targeting transgender bathrooms.

The letter described “a growing sense of dread” that Texas will follow the path set by North Carolina, where a backlash to a similar law enacted in March will cost its economy several hundred million dollars in canceled sporting events, conventions, concerts and corporate investments.

“That’s why we oppose any Texas legislation — broad or narrow — that would legalize discrimination against any group,” the letter said. “That kind of legislation doesn’t just go against our values to be welcoming to everyone, it jeopardizes the businesses we’ve worked so hard to create, and it threatens the jobs and livelihoods of everyday Texans.”

Unveiled in San Antonio, home to the Final Four of the 2018 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the letter was a direct response to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s calls for legislation that he has dubbed the Women’s Privacy Act.

[…]

Tuesday’s letter not only sets the stage for an animated battle when the 2017 legislative session convenes in January, it underscored deepening divisions between social conservatives and many in the business community — a typically reliable GOP ally — on issues that include gay marriage and allowing transgender Texans to use bathrooms that conform to their gender identity, not the gender on their birth certificate.

The legislative priorities for the Texas Association of Business, adopted last month by its board of directors, calls for opposition to religious freedom bills that are “discriminatory” and would hurt the economy. The powerful business lobbying group also opposed similar bills in the 2015 legislative session.

Many business owners who signed Tuesday’s open letter — which was sponsored by Equality Texas, a gay- and transgender-rights group — said they rely on tourism or the ability to serve expanding corporations.

“Texas has always been a place of fierce independence and a great big pioneering spirit,” said David Wyatt with Wyatt Brand, a business-support company in Austin that endorsed the letter. “Companies, voters and political donors won’t stand for legislators dictating government overreach into individual liberties.”

Other Austin businesses listed on the letter include GSD&M advertising, Home Slice Pizza, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and Bunkhouse, which manages Hotel San José, Austin Motel and Hotel Saint Cecilia, as well as hotels in San Antonio and Marfa.

Just remember, Dan Patrick is Donald Trump’s biggest fanboy in Texas, so you know how much he respects the ladies. This all comes down to the same question I asked before, when the normally Republican-aligned Texas Association of Business came out against any anti-LGBT legislation that Patrick and his buddies might want to peddle: How much damage does Dan Patrick have to do to Texas’ business interests before they decide that he’s not worth it to them? Putting it another way, at what point do the Republican members of these groups quit trying to reason with the radicals and work instead to defeat them? The definition of political insanity is to continue voting for people who oppose your interests in the hope that maybe this time they’ll listen to you. What’s it gonna be, fellas? The Rivard Report, the Chron, and the Current have more.

Fort Worth updates its transgender bathroom policy

Everyone declares victory.

The new guidelines, condensed to two pages, affirm transgender students’ right to accommodations but eliminate a portion of the April guidelines that told schools not to out transgender students to their parents out of concern for their safety.

The new guidelines require parents to be involved with students and administrators in developing a “student individual support plan,” including provisions for bathroom use. Clint Bond, a spokesman for Fort Worth ISD, said the change was insignificant.

“In essence, there’s no change from the original guidelines issued on April 19 compared with the ones issued today,” Bond said. “The wording is a little bit different. We always intended to involve parents in the decision.”

[AG Ken] Paxton seemed to disagree in a Wednesday morning press release cheering the new guidelines, which he said brought Fort Worth in line with the opinion he issued on June 28. Paxton concluded in his opinion that state law did not allow schools to conceal transgender students’ gender identity from their parents.

Jacinto Ramos, president of the Fort Worth school board, called Paxton’s opinion a “good road map” to the revised guidelines. He emphasized that the changes reflected input from parents, students and community members. The district held six town hall forums, and appointed 45 parents, teachers, and community leaders to a Student Safety Advisory Council that met five times.

Ramos said that the guidelines are meant to be comprehensive, and not just address which bathrooms transgender students use.

“The original guidelines were written with every intention to protect all children, and obviously it got twisted up into a so-called bathroom policy, which couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Ramos said.

See here and here for some background. If the policy was amended to conform to the recent AG opinion on the matter, then indeed that represents a small change. The story quotes Lou Weaver of Equality Texas giving approval to the new policy, though I have not seen a statement on EQTX’s Facebook page about this, which strikes me as a bit odd. Whatever, if this previously-expected modification satisfies the pottylust of the Dan Patrick crowd, then huzzah and hallelujah, let us please turn our attention to actual problems. I doubt it really will satisfy their lust because nothing ever does, but I’m hoping for the best.

Paxton petitions for national injunction against transgender bathroom directive

This guy, I swear.

Best mugshot ever

Best mugshot ever

Plunging further into the politics of public school bathrooms, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday expanded his federal lawsuit against an Obama Administration directive instructing schools not to discriminate against transgender students, saying he wants a nationwide injunction stopping the policy and wants it quickly.

Because a federal judge’s decision to halt President Obama’s executive action on immigration was applied nationwide, Paxton suggested that a different federal judge in Wichita Falls has the authority to issue a similar order regarding the transgender policy.

The updated request for preliminary injunction against the new rules is the latest in Texas’ fight against the federal government over the transgender-inclusive policy. Zeroing in on a requirement to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, Texas, joined by 10 other states, filed a federal lawsuit in March to stop Obama’s directive.

In the filing, Paxton’s office wrote a nationwide injunction is necessary because the new rules apply to all public school districts and not just those suing the federal government. The other states in the lawsuit are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

See here for the background. Yes, they said “plunging” in a story that has to do with bathrooms. That’s about as much respect as this desperate gesture deserves. Unfortunately, there’s a real chance the judge could go along with this. We’ll keep an eye on it and hope for the best. Equality Texas, the Chron, and the Press have more.

UPDATE: From the Statesman:

According to Paxton’s motion to U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Wichita Falls, the federal government has agreed to an expedited court schedule in an attempt to resolve the injunction request before the fall semester begins Aug. 22 for most Texas districts.

The schedule calls for all briefs to be submitted by Aug. 3 and requests that a hearing, if needed, be held Aug. 8 or 9.

Mark your calendars accordingly.

Patrick doubles down on potty politics

It’s potties all the way down.

Dan Patrick is threatening their children

Declaring that “this fight is just beginning,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday escalated his battle against guidelines in Texas and across the country that allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

Speaking to reporters at the Texas Capitol, Patrick announced a number of new moves in the offensive, including a request for an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on whether the Fort Worth Independent School District broke the law when it adapted such guidelines last month. Patrick also said he was sending a letter to all Texas school districts advising them to ignore a similar directive issued this month by the federal government.

Throughout his remarks, Patrick suggested that state lawmakers would have to step in if Fort Worth ISD did not reconsider its actions. He also repeatedly pushed back on the idea that he is intruding on a local matter, saying it is “this superintendent and school board that is prohibiting local control.”

“When we have a rogue, runaway superintendent and a rogue, runaway school board, then the Legislature this coming-up session is going to have to look at this issue because the law is clear,” Patrick told reporters. “So what do parents do when the superintendent and the school board ignores them? When the superintendent and school board breaks the law, if that’s the case? The parents are going to look to us.”

Patrick’s request for an AG opinion is here. His attempt to denigrate and delegitimize duly elected officials who had the nerve to take a completely legal action that he disagreed with is despicable, but par for the course for an authoritarian like himself. I’m hardly the gatekeeper for what it means to be “conservative”, but I am old enough to recall a time when those who called themselves “conservative” would not have dreamed of butting in on local decision-making in which they had no direct stake like that. It’s not the disagreement that’s at issue here, nor even the heavyhanded threats to overrule the school board’s (again, perfectly legal and entirely consistent with the principles of treating all students equally) actions via the Legislature, which as we know with the federal government is something that can be and is done at that level. It’s the irresponsible use of epithets like “rogue” and “runaway” that tries to cast perfectly mundane actions by local officials in a sinister lights. Putting aside any other consideration here, that’s shameful behavior on Patrick’s part, though as we know completely of a piece. The only legitimate government to Dan Patrick – and Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton – is government that does only and exactly things he agrees with. It’s his way or the threats and recriminations and lawsuits begin.

But of course that isn’t the only consideration. There are many students in Texas public schools who are directly affected not just by inclusive and appropriate policies regarding bathroom usage, but also by the fearmongering and demagoguery being espoused by the likes of Dan Patrick. The most charitable explanation I can think of is that Patrick just simply doesn’t have any understanding of what it means to be transgender. Lord knows, there’s plenty of misinformation and misrepresentation out there (much of it coming from people like Dan Patrick, but let’s put that aside for now). Fortunately, we live in a time when parents of transgender children have begun to speak out in support of their kids and in response to the ignorance and fear of the likes of Dan Patrick. Equality Texas presented four such parents, and you really need to read and understand what they had to say to our Lite Governor.

Meet Kimberly Shappley. She is a Houston area mom and the mother of a transgender child, who was born a boy named Joseph Paul, and who identifies as her daughter, Kai. Kai is five years old.

“From my earliest memories, I noticed the nature and temperament of this child was more similar to my daughter than to my sons. Around age two, a family member asked me if my child was gay because of her flamboyantly feminine mannerisms and love for all things girly. I asked our daycare to put away all girly toys. When my child consistently and persistently insisted “I am a girl”, the adults in her life would get down on her level and look her in the eyes and firmly tell her, “no. you are a boy.” My child went into depression. It is very difficult to witness depression in a formerly joyful toddler. Haircuts became a nightmare of horror movie screams of, “Stop. Stop. Please don’t mommy. Please don’t let them cut my hair.” But I was adamant this child was going to have a flattop. This child would never get a single toy that she wanted, nor the birthday party theme she asked for. My sweet child began praying for Joseph to go to Heaven and live with Jesus. Kai was begging the Lord to let her die. Moments like these helped me to realize transition was necessary. I didn’t know how to do it. I just knew I needed to help my child,” said Kimberly Shappley, mom of a transgender child from Pearland.

“We are private people. We are lifelong Republicans, we are Christian. We are a Houston family who only want to protect our daughter and live quietly. We did not want to speak out publicly, but the lt. governor has forced us out of our private lives and into the public arena to protect our daughter. This is the face of a transgender child in Texas. I want Texans to look at my little girl’s photo. Do we as a state really want to force her to go into the boy’s bathroom? Why are we targeting innocent children for political games? The Superintendent of the Pearland school district, who is listening to the direction of the lt. governor and attorney general, wants to force my little girl into the boy’s bathroom. My number one job in life is “a mom” and I am speaking out today to protect my little girl,” said Shappley. “I urge Lt. Governor Patrick and other leaders to sit down with me and families like mine and educate themselves about transgender children.”

Here’s more from the Chronicle:

“I’m here to tell Dan Patrick – you specifically – you are endangering my child’s life because you have now told everyone in the state of Texas that it’s OK to harass my child, it’s OK for the school district to stop supporting him. And I want you to know my child has had no issues with his school,” said Ann Elder of Friendswood, holding a picture of her transgender son in short brown hair and a blue flannel shirt. “They have been supportive. He goes to the boy’s bathroom. Everything is perfectly fine.”

What do you have to say to that, Dan Patrick? You admitted to the Austin Chronicle that you didn’t know any transgender people on a “personal basis”. Will you take the time to meet these parents and their children, and try to understand their perspective? Or will you continue to pretend that they are something less than human and thus endanger their safety? It’s your choice to make. That choice will show us what kind of person you are. Trail Blazers, the StarTelegram, the Press, the Current, and Think Progress, which notes that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to do an en banc review of its earlier ruling upholding the Obama directive on transgender bathroom access in a case involving a school in Virginia, have more.

Dan Patrick is obsessed with children’s bathrooms

This guy, I swear.

Transgender advocates derided Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Wednesday for what they described as his “fake outrage” over the Fort Worth school district’s new transgender bathroom guidelines, calling the Republican a shameless bully.

“A bully like Dan Patrick can’t go unchallenged. He is wrong,” said Joel Burns, an openly gay former Fort Worth councilman. “He’s here to do harm for his own political gain.”

Burns, also an anti-bullying advocate, spoke during a news conference ahead of one Patrick scheduled in advance of a Forth Worth school board meeting, where the new guidelines are not on the agenda but are expected to come up during public comment.

“There is no news here,” said Steve Rudner, chairman of Equality Texas, who joined Burns at the news conference. “The only news here is that the lieutenant governor has decided to pick on an already bullied group of kids. It’s shameful and it’s despicable.”

The Fort Worth Independent School District superintendent said earlier Tuesday he will not heed Patrick’s request for his resignation over the district’s bathroom guidelines for transgender students.

Patrick on Monday called for Superintendent Kent Scribner to resign over a policy the superintendent announced last month that directs district employees to “acknowledge the gender identity that each student consistently and uniformly asserts,” allowing them to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity.

“I’m proud of these guidelines,’’ Scribner told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram editorial board Tuesday. “I think they provide educators with the ability to make all students more comfortable and confident in a learning environment.”

Patrick said the policy puts students in danger and Scribner should not have acted without “any discussion with parents, board members, principals, and other community leaders.”

“Campus safety should be of paramount concern for anyone in his position,” Patrick said in a statement Monday. “Every parent, especially those of young girls, should be outraged.”

Well, speaking as father of young girls, I’d say they have far more to fear from the Baylor football team than from any trans women or girls who might be sharing the ladies’ room with them. I can’t decide if Patrick is too willfully ignorant of the facts to understand that what he claims to fear is just not possible, or if he’s just cynically exploiting that fear in everyone else who’s ignorant. What I do know is that it’s ultimately the business community, against whose interests Patrick continues to work, that will have to stop him. I wish I could say I were optimistic about this, but alas, they have shown no capability to grasp this as yet. In the meantime, compare and contrast Dan Patrick with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. To whom will history be kind, and who will be seen as this generation’s Bull Connor? Texas Monthly and the Austin Chronicle have more.

Strategizing for the next HERO fight

Good move.

Stung by setbacks related to their access to public restrooms, transgender Americans are taking steps to play a more prominent and vocal role in a nationwide campaign to curtail discrimination against them.

Two such initiatives are being launched this week — evidence of how transgender rights has supplanted same-sex marriage as the most volatile, high-profile issue for the broader movement of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists.

One initiative is a public education campaign called the Transgender Freedom Project that will share the personal stories of transgender people. The other, the Trans United Fund, is a political advocacy group that will engage in election campaigns at the federal and state level, pressing candidates to take stands on transgender rights.

“We welcome the support of our allies,” said Hayden Mora, a veteran transgender activist who’s director of Trans United. “But it’s crucial that trans people build our own political power and speak with our own voices.”

From a long-term perspective, there have been notable gains for transgender Americans in recent years — more support from major employers, better options for health care and sex-reassignment surgery, a growing number of municipalities which bar anti-transgender discrimination.

[…]

“All the people who lost the marriage equality fight, they’ve now decided that trans people are fair game,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “They’re going to claim trans people are sexual predators, but the public is quickly going to learn that’s just nonsense.”

The outcome in Houston prompted many post-mortems among LGBT activists — What went wrong? How should the bathroom-access argument be countered in the future?

“It’s been an alarming wake-up call since November,” said Dru Lavasseur, Transgender Rights Project director for the LGBT-rights group Lambda Legal. “We need to prioritize bringing transgender people into the movement in leadership positions, with transgender voices leading the way.”

There has been widespread agreement that a key plank of future strategy should be enlisting more transgender people to share their personal experience — a tactic that was successful for gays and lesbians during the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage.

“In most parts of this country, people don’t know a trans person,” said Kasey Suffredini, a transgender attorney who’s director of the new Transgender Freedom Project. “The work in front of us is to put a face on who the trans community is. That’s the way that we win.”

The project, undertaken by an advocacy group called Freedom for All Americans, has a first-year budget of about $1 million, with plans to expand thereafter.

Nationwide success “will not happen overnight,” said Suffredini, suggesting a 10-year timeframe was plausible.

“What happened in North Carolina, as terrible as it was, has really galvanized people,” he added.

Part of the problem in last year’s HERO fight was that we were caught off guard – after winning the petition lawsuit in district court, we didn’t expect to have this issue on the ballot in the fall. The bad guys were way ahead of us in organizing and spreading lies. This is an attempt to counter that as the fight has shifted mostly to state legislatures. This can’t be all that there is, but it’s a good start.

And since we know that the fight is coming to our legislature, too, it’s vital to be out in front of it here as well. Thankfully, that is happening.

That’s in part why Lou Weaver is encouraging transgender Texans like himself to become more vocal and visible as the legislature approaches the 2017 session. “Something like 80 to 90 percent of Americans know an out gay or lesbian person now, and that’s led to a dramatically different discussion on issues like same-sex marriage,” Weaver told the Press. Surveys show only about 10 percent of Americans know an out transgender person, Weaver said.

Last week Weaver, transgender programs coordinator with Equality Texas, helped launch what the organization is calling its “Transvisible” project. The idea, Weaver says, is to reduce violence and prejudice against transgender people by introducing Houstonians to their transgender neighbors. “If you don’t know trans folks, it’s easy to be mystified and to believe the lies and stories that are spread about us,” Weaver said. “It’s much harder to do that when you realize we’re your neighbors, your co-workers, just everyday Houstonians.”

I agree completely. It’s a lot easier to fear or hate a faceless bogeyman than a neighbor or co-worker. Again, this is just a first step, but it’s a necessary one. I’m glad to see it.

I should note, this post started out as a discussion of this good report from the post-HERO referendum community forum on what happened and what happens next.

HoustonUnites

LGBT advocates plan to eventually launch a petition drive to get the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance back on the ballot.

First, however, they intend to draft a strategic plan, set up a citizens advisory committee, and conduct a robust public education campaign about the need for an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said those were among the recommendations that emerged from a two-and-a-half-hour community debriefing on HERO that drew around 200 people on January 12. “We agree that whatever happens next has to be citizen-led, not council-led,” said Burke, who chaired the meeting. “But everybody is in agreement—both the organizing groups and the public at large—that we can’t even think about that until we figure out how to overcome the bathroom argument. We need a multi-pronged public education campaign that’s aimed at transgender prejudice reduction.”

Houston voters overwhelmingly repealed HERO on November 3, based largely on opponents’ false, fear-mongering ads suggesting the ordinance would lead to sexual predators entering women’s restrooms and preying on young girls.

“The truth is, nobody knows how to combat the bathroom message,” Burke said. “We don’t in Houston, and they don’t anywhere else in the country. All the great minds in the country are trying to figure out how to respond to it. We have to come up with our six-word response to No Men in Women’s Bathrooms.”

That was from February. You can see why I’m glad that there’s some action on this, because at that time we really weren’t sure what to do. My response to this story was simple, only needing four words: They’re Lying To You. I know it’s more complicated than that, but it gets to the heart of the matter. Because these guys are shameless liars, if we do manage to come up with a perfect response to “no men in women’s bathrooms”, they’ll just invent some other lie to tell. I mean, they used to claim that it was the gays that were the depraved perverts and child molesters that threatened us all. The fact that people no longer believe that didn’t slow them down. I don’t want to spend too much time trying to debunk one piece of bullshit, because as soon as we do there’s plenty more where that came from, and now you’re fighting the last war. We have to attack their credibility so that people will be disinclined to believe them whatever they say. Easier said than done, I know, but that’s how I would approach the question.

That’s what I wrote in February, and I still believe it. But I’m more than happy to see another approach. As for what the future holds:

Burke said it’s unlikely any petition drive would be completed in time for HERO to appear on the November 2016 ballot. HERO supporters would need to gather 20,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to amend the city’s charter. But reviving HERO through a petition would take the political onus off of council members, who’ve said they’re in no rush to revisit the ordinance given that the public vote was so decisive.

Incoming mayor Sylvester Turner, who supported HERO, told OutSmart that his top priorities are addressing the city’s infrastructure needs and financial challenges—issues that have “universal agreement” among voters.

If he can first conquer potholes and pensions, Turner expects voters will give him permission to tackle other issues, including possibly HERO. “I think anything that’s a distraction from dealing with the infrastructure and the financial challenges really does a disservice to those particular areas,” Turner said. “So whether we’re talking about nondiscrimination, whether we’re talking about income inequality or educational initiatives, all of those things are important, but until we have met the challenges that are being presented by the infrastructure, and the financial challenges, I really don’t think at this point in time that Houstonians have an appetite for too much more than that.”

Turner is talking about building up some political capital before tackling a controversial topic like HERO, and I completely agree with his approach. That suggests to me that we’re unlikely to see any action on this until Mayor Turner’s presumed second term. Just a guess, but I do think letting some time pass is a smart idea. Not so great for the people who would benefit from HERO, unfortunately. I wish I had a better answer for that. ProjectQ Houston has more.

30 day finance reports: Pro- and anti-HERO

Some good news here.

HoustonUnites

Supporters of Houston’s contentious equal rights ordinance raked in $1.26 million during seven weeks of official fundraising, more than doubling opponents’ efforts and fueling a fierce and frenzied media campaign to court voters before the law hits the November ballot.

In campaign finance reports filed Monday that reflect late summer totals, both sides spent more than $550,000, largely on dueling TV and radio ads. But the more than $521,000 that supporters of the law still had left in campaign coffers as of Sept. 25 dwarfed the $58,000 that opponents reported in cash-on-hand.

[…]

In the battle over the city’s equal rights ordinance, Jared Woodfill, spokesman for opponents, said the campaign is unfazed by supporters’ significant fundraising totals.

Opponents reported a $100,000 donation from conservative developer Al Hartman, $25,000 from Harris County Commissioner Jack Cagle and $5,000 from Houston state Rep. Gary Elkins, among others. Longtime anti-gay activist Steve Hotze also loaned the campaign $50,000.

“We’re absolutely not intimidated at this point,” Woodfill said. “I believe the momentum is in our favor and clearly this is an ordinance that the people in Houston don’t want.”

In a news release, the Houston Unites campaign said it expected to spend $2 million before the November election.

The campaign said 80 percent of its nearly 700 donors are Houston residents.

But its efforts were also fueled by big-ticket contributions from national groups and figures.

The Washington, D.C.- based Human Rights Campaign contributed more than $200,000, and New York philanthropist Jon Stryker, a frequent donor to LGBT causes, pitched in $100,000. Colorado’s Gill Action and New York-based American Unity Fund, both LGBT advocacy groups, donated a combined $200,000.

Campaign manager Richard Carlbom, in a written statement, said the group had “certainly done well on the money front so far.”

“But, there is a great sense of urgency around fundraising this week and next,” Carlbom said. “We know from past ballot campaigns that equal rights opponents spend significant dollars in the final weeks. We must remain competitive with them in what will, no doubt, be a close election.”

The story has some highlights of candidate finance reports as well. Those can be found here, same place as the July reports. Reports for PACs can be found on the usual city finance webpage – here’s the Advanced Search link; select either the “Specific-Purpose Political Committee” or “Both” radio button, then click the “Search” button next to the “Candidate/Committee” name boxes. Latest results are on the last pages, so go to page 4; the only relevant result on page 3 is for Brenda Stardig’s campaign PAC.

There are three PACs of interest regarding HERO. Two are pro-HERO: the Houston Unites Against Discrimination PAC and the Human Rights Campaign Houston Equal Rights PAC. One is anti-HERO, the Campaign for Houston PAC. There is a “No on Houston Prop 1” PAC that shows up in the search results, but it reports no funds raised or spent.

Here’s a summary of the reports for the three active PACs mentioned above:

PAC name Raised Spent Loans On Hand ============================================================== Houston Unites 1,262,893 597,299 0 521,462 Human Rights Campaign 218,480 205,810 0 11,503 Campaign for Houston 274,785 492,231 50,000 18,494

Houston Unites had $901K in cash contributions and $359K in kind. It also reports $6,800 in loans on summary page 3, though I didn’t see any explanation of that. Some of their big donors are as follows:

Human Rights Campaign 205,810 Gill Action LLC 100,000 American Unity Fund 100,000 ACLU of Texas 95,000 Freedom For All Americans 50,000 Wes Milliken 50,000 Texas Freedom Network 25,000 Equality Texas 12,500 Annise Parker campaign 5,000 Robert Gallegos campaign 1,000

So basically, the HRC PAC was a passthrough, as all the funds they raised ($200K of which came from themselves) went to the Houston Unites PAC. A lot of these same big donors were also the main suppliers of in kind contributions, which mostly amounted to staff time and office space:

ACLU Texas 137,187 Freedom for All Americans 124,017 Human Rights Campaign 50,144 ACLU (national office) 16,750 Texas Freedom Network 15,139 Equality Texas 10,625

The expenses listed were fairly straightforward. About $360K was allocated for advertising. Some $158K was for consulting to a group called Block by Block; there were some smaller consultant expenses as well. There was about $37K for printing, and $5K for polling.

And here are the big donors for Campaign for Houston:

Allen R Hartman 100,000 Jack Cagle PAC 25,000 Ralph Schmidt 25,000 Mickey Ellis 20,000 Texans for Family Values PAC 10,000 Mac Haik Ford 10,000 Law Office of Melanie Flowers 10,000 Ryan Sitton 10,000 Anthony McCorvey 10,000 Johnny Baker 10,000 Edd Hendee 5,000 Paul Pressler 5,000 Dan Huberty 5,000 William Carl 5,000 Jay E. Mincks 5,000 Malcolm Morris 5,000 Gary Elkins 5,000 Dwayne Bohac 1,000 Jodie L. Jiles 1,000 Norman Adams 1,000

That’s $268K of the $275K they reported raising. Grassroots, they ain’t. There are some familiar names in this list. Jack Cagle is County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Ryan Sitton is a Railroad Commissioner. Dan Huberty, Gary Elkins, and Dwayne Bohac are all State Reps. Texans for Family Values is the main source of anti-gay wingnuttery at a state level. Edd Hendee is (was? I don’t listen to AM radio) a talk radio host and the owner of the Taste of Texas restaurant. I don’t recognize a lot of the other names, but I’m glad I’ve never bought a car from Mac Haik or sought legal services from Melanie Flowers.

The expense side of their report is weird. Two line items totaling $200,350.50 are to American Express for unitemized expenses. I mean, these are presumably credit card bills, so they could be for just about anything – office supplies, food, consulting expenses, strippers and porn downloads, who knows? It’s their responsibility – requirement, actually – to specify what these expenses are. My guess, if I were forced to make one, is that these are their line items for advertising costs, as there’s basically nothing else for that. But that’s just a guess, and I should note that while they listed $492,231 in total expenses on their summary page, the individual expense items only add up to $291,880. Is there an error in their form, or are there another $200K in expenditures they’re not reporting? Like I said, it’s on them to tell us. I for one will feel free to speculate wildly until they do so.

Those are the highlights for now. I am posting 30 day reports as I find them to the Election 2015 webpage. I’ll have a closer look at the reports for citywide candidates next week. Any questions about this, leave ’em in the comments.

Ready to engage in the next fight

No rest for the righteous.

RedEquality

On Monday, national and state gay rights leaders and the plaintiffs who sued for marriage equality convened in front of the Texas Capitol to make a different kind of vow: The fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not over. The next frontier, they said, is pushing for more protections against discrimination in areas including employment and housing.

“In many states, including my home state of Ohio and right here in Texas, you can get married but then suffer consequences,” said Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark case that legalized same-sex marriage. “You can get married and then lose your job, lose your home and so much more because we are not guaranteed nondiscrimination protections. … Friday’s historic ruling is a victory, but it’s just the beginning.”

Obergefell was joined Monday by a coalition of from the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBT civil rights organization; Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin; Equality Texas; two same-sex couples who filed suit over Texas’ same-sex marriage ban; and others who announced that they would be part of a statewide campaign for nondiscrimination protections.

[…]

Texas is a huge part of a national strategy to pursue nondiscrimination ordinances because it’s the largest state in the country that offers no statewide protections for LGBT residents, Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith said Monday.

Democratic proposals for statewide nondiscrimination laws have been non-starters in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where conservatives have tried to override local ordinances. Among opponents of the nondiscrimination ordinances are Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who as the former state attorney general said such ordinances violate freedom of speech and religion.

This has left Texas with a patchwork of local protections against discrimination in employment, housing and other public areas like buses and restaurants.

At least nine Texas cities with a population of more than 100,000 have passed some nondiscrimination rules or legislation.

[…]

In defending the need for more protections for LGBT residents, Mark Phariss, one of the plaintiffs in the Texas gay marriage case, likened those protections to the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities like Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1984 accident.

At the time of his accident, Abbott was not protected against discrimination “as a result of that disability,” said Phariss, who attended law school with Abbott and said he visited him in the hospital after his accident.

“That has been fixed. The ADA now provides protections for Americans who are disabled, just like Greg, from being discriminated against in their workplace and in public accommodations,” Phariss said. “And that is the exact same protection that we seek for ourselves — nothing more, nothing less.“

Of course, Abbott opposes the ADA, too. All of his accommodation needs have been met, so what does he care about anyone else? Enacting NDOs in more cities and eventually at the state and national level are important and need to be done, but as noted before there are other fights as well, including the birth certificate issue for adoptees and transgender folks, transgender issues in general, and just making sure the laws that are on the books now, including marriage quality, get enforced. Towards that end, Sen. Rodney Ellis sent a letter to the DOJ.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, on Monday sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking the department to “monitor the implementation of Obergefell and intervene, if necessary, to ensure that Texas officials do not flout the Supreme Court’s ruling and blatantly discriminate against same sex couples.”

[…]

In his letter, Ellis blasted Paxton for the guidance and said “religion must not be relied upon as an excuse to discriminate and refuse to fulfill the duties of government taxpayer-funded jobs.”

“Where does this end?” he asks. “Will judges be able to argue that they should not have to recognize or authorize divorces if it offends their religious sensibilities? Could a judge refuse to sentence a defendant to the death penalty under his or her belief that ‘thou shalt not kill’ means just that?”

A copy of Sen. Ellis’ letter is here. Slippery slope can be tendentious and sometimes ridiculous, but when the state’s top lawyer encourages local officials to ignore a Supreme Court ruling, it’s hardly unfair to ask these questions. And nothing would make me laugh harder than having DOJ observers camp outside Ken Paxton’s office. All Paxton needs to do to make this go away is promise to obey the law. That may be tricky for a guy with Paxton’s past history to promise, but it is what he needs to do.

One more holdout concedes

Hood County and its outspoken County Clerk bow to the inevitable.

Counties issuing same sex marriage licenses

A Texas county clerk said on Tuesday her office will issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, reversing a previous decision that was based on religious objections.

Some counties in other socially conservative states such as Kentucky have declined to issue such licenses since the U.S. Supreme Court said on Friday the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry. The controversy could result in a new round of lawsuits over gay marriage.

Katie Lang, clerk of Hood County, southwest of Fort Worth, said staffers will issue the licenses although she will not do so based on her Christian beliefs, which she believes are protected under the Constitution.

“I am grateful that the First Amendment continues to protect the sincerely held religious beliefs of public servants like me. That has not changed since last Friday,” Lang said.

Hood County will begin processing same-sex marriage applications when it receives the appropriate forms, she said.

Lang had previously drawn attention for her mule-headed defiance, so it’s a particular pleasure to see her cave. As both Somervell County Salon and the Dallas Voice note, she’s not exactly being honest about her earlier actions, but at this point I don’t care. The point is that her office is doing its duty. Everything else is details.

Overall, we’re not quite at half of Texas counties being in compliance, but the vast majority of people live in a county where a same-sex marriage license is now available.

The Austin-based group Equality Texas has been tallying Texas counties that have confirmed they are issuing the newly legal marriage licenses, and the number as of Tuesday afternoon was 115. It’s an inexact count, but it lines up with a tally taken by the Dallas Morning News on Friday.

Project coordinator and Equality Texas legislative specialist Daniel Williams said that doesn’t mean none of the remaining 139 counties are issuing licenses — only that a substantial number are not.

“For the most part, there seems to be confusion about how to do it,” Williams said. “In some cases the counties have data systems that have to interact with the [federal] Bureau of Vital Statistics forms, and they’re having difficulty getting the systems to line up.”

When the Houston Chronicle called around to about a dozen county clerks, many echoed that conundrum. Seven counties were still waiting on software updates, and they relied on a variety of manufacturers, both in and out of state, who they said were working with a severe backlog because of the quantity of requests for updated digital forms.

“Some counties were prepared for this and some were overwhelmed and were taken unaware,” Williams said.

Many depend on software products from Plano-based Tyler Technologies or San Antonio-based Property Info, and are waiting on the companies to issue updates.

Officials in Hill County, north of Waco, said they were waiting on an updated design for their physical marriage license from Wichita Falls-based Bear Graphics. None of the three companies was immediately available for comment Tuesday.

However, even counties waiting on products to issue same-sex marriage licenses said they would be ready as soon as possible. Most estimated they’d be ready within days. Some predicted early next week.

The embedded image is from Williams’ Facebook page. As of last night, with Hood County in the fold, the count was at 117, covering 84% of the state’s population. At this point I’m not aware of any other Lang-level disobedience – it’s all just waiting for the upgrades, which may or may not reflect a certain amount of disorganization or unpreparedness, but at least isn’t willfulness. My guess at this point would be that by this time next week we should be at or pretty close to full compliance. Stay tuned.

No response necessary

Unless it’s “We will respect and fully comply with the court’s ruling”.

RedEquality

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide as early as this week whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry. For supporters of same-sex marriage, it’s an emotional waiting game.

“People are literally on pins and needles,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas. Smith feels the Supreme Court is on the brink of ruling same-sex couples everywhere have the right to marry. “Such a ruling would certainly be received by joy by thousands of people in Texas who have waited — some for all their lives — to marry the person that they love.”

[…]

The Texas Constitution bans same-sex marriage, and many lawmakers have vowed to fight any ruling to the contrary by the nation’s high court.

The state’s legal response will fall to new Texas attorney general Ken Paxton. Reached by KVUE following a speech to a conservative think tank Monday in Austin, Paxton said it’s too early to say what his response may be.

“It’s very difficult for us to say what’s going to happen given the fact that we don’t know what the result is and we don’t know how that opinion is going to be written,” Paxton said.

When asked whether he intends to fight the ruling, Paxton reiterated that such a decision would depend upon the ruling. “Obviously we have a constitution that protects the definition of marriage, and we’ll do everything we can.”

“If the Supreme Court issues a ruling saying that the freedom to marry is the law of the land, I would expect and hope that marriages begin to happen that day,” Smith said.

I’ve already hypothesized what the state’s likely response will be. It’s really just a question of how long it takes before the hammer comes down, and how obnoxious the resisters are. Stupid pastor tricks are a bit harder to predict, and while there is some legitimate concern that they could cause a bit of real trouble, my best guess is that once everyone else realizes that no one is forcing them in any way to participate in a same-sex wedding, this will all be seen as the circus sideshow that it is. Basically, expect some extreme craziness for the short term, then a return to more-or-less normality, with a shift in focus and tactics still to come.

Moving equality forward in San Antonio

From the Rivard Report:

RedEquality

Members of San Antonio’s lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community want the city’s next mayor to follow the lead of Dallas and Houston and expand the 2013 non-discrimination ordinance (NDO) to include private companies.

The NDO now extends to city employment, public accommodations (restaurants, stores, public events), public housing, city contracts, and appointed officials, boards and commissions. There are significant religious exemptions to the rule. Unless they have an internal policy, private companies that operate outside the realm of public accommodations can fire an employee for being gay or choose not to do business with someone because of their sexual orientation.

The push to extend the NDO comes less than two years after then-Mayor Julían Castro and City Council voted 8-3 to pass an updated non-discrimination ordinance that extended greater protections to the LGBTQ community and to veterans. That vote, however, was not followed by any specific action.

This month, Mayor Ivy Taylor answered her critics by directing city staff to establish what is now called the Office of Diversity and Inclusion that will enforce the NDO and act on any complaints of it being violated. The updated NDO now covers sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status along with race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and disability.

Taylor voted against passage of the NDO in 2013, but since becoming interim mayor she has pledged to uphold the ordinance.

Taylor and former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte are in a June 13 runoff for mayor, with early voting June 1-9. The Rivard Report reached out to both candidates to ask for their views on the subject of including private companies in the ordinance and related topics.

Click here to read the Q&A with Taylor. Click here to read the Q&A with van de Putte.

[…]

Robert Salcido, an Equality Texas field organizer and the local LGBT Chamber of Commerce board vice president, said putting real “teeth” to the NDO is a major goal, meaning it needs to be enforced and it needs to be expanded.

To date, only three complaints have been filed with the City based on gender identity and/or sexual orientation discrimination. Two have been dropped due to technicalities. One complainant backed out to pursue a civil suit.

Taylor and others have speculated that the newly established Office of Diversity and Inclusion might now have the legal authority to actively enforce the NDO, something city staff might have lacked until now.

Salcido said he is encouraged by Taylor’s move but wants to see San Antonio’s City Council follow their counterparts in Dallas and Houston to amend the ordinance to include private companies.

Christina Gorczynski, the Texas Wins campaign director based in Houston, agrees.

“Waiting for Washington D.C., or waiting for Austin to resolve local issues like this will keep us waiting for too long,” Gorczynski said. “People find discrimination now, so let’s resolve discrimination right now with the powers that are available to the mayor and city council.

“Local officials are empowered by their charter to create ordinances like the nondiscrimination ordinance and they should be able to take full advantage of that and be able to protect the values of its community.”

Taylor told the Rivard Report that she will not support expansion of the NDO into the private sector. Van de Putte said she would not support such an initiative at this time, either.

It’s probably safe to say the highly contentious battle that ended with the 8-3 vote in 2013 is fresh enough in everyone’s memory locally that few officeholders would be eager to see the issue come up for another debate and vote.

The wording in that penultimate paragraph is a little misleading. Taylor’s full answer to the question whether she would support “either now or in the future – expanding the NDO to include private companies that operate outside of public accommodations?” was “I would not vote to further expand the ordinance”, while VdP’s answer was “No, not at at this time”, followed by a discourse on her record in the Senate. I’d prefer an affirmative commitment to expanding the NDO at some point during her Mayoral tenure, but at least “Not at this time” allows for that, while a flat “No” does not. Taylor to her credit created the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to enforce the NDO, but between her record and her pandering to anti-equality voters during the campaign, I just don’t trust her. Your mileage may vary. Early voting in the San Antonio runoff elections begins today, so those of you who are there, be sure and make your voice heard/

That brings up a point about Houston’s Mayoral race, since everything comes back to the Houston Mayoral race. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is now being enforced by the city. Yes, the opponents are appealing their loss in the lawsuit – they’re also requesting a new trial in the district court, because Andy Taylor has bills to pay – but as of Judge Schaffer’s ruling, the ordinance is in effect. It’s too early to ask anyone what they think of the process, since I doubt there’s been an opportunity to test it yet, but an opinion about how it was designed and what if anything they’d have done differently if they had been Mayor in 2014 would not be out of line. At some point, we will need to know how they think it’s working and what their level of commitment to it is. Doesn’t have anything to do with potholes, I’m afraid, but it is an issue the next Mayor will have to deal with.

Bell’s anti-same sex marriage license bill lives again

WTF?

RedEquality

A Democratic state senator has dredged up anti-gay marriage legislation that advocates thought was dead this session, attaching the language to an uncontroversial county affairs bill under the noses of his fellow Democrats.

While gay rights advocates decried the move, the bill’s original sponsor in the House said he would never let his legislation pass with the anti-same-sex marriage language in-tact.

“I’m the author of the bill. I will resolve the bill,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D- Houston, a staunch gay marriage advocate.

House Bill 2977, as Coleman originally filed it, was an uncontroversial county affairs placeholder bill, meant to act as a vehicle for lawmakers to ensure important local issues can be passed late in the session.

As the bill was headed to the Senate committee for approval this week, however, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. attached a number of other bills to Coleman’s legislation, including one that would seek to block a Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage.

Lucio attached House Bill 4105 by Magnolia Republican Cecil Bell, Jr., to Coleman’s placeholder bill. Bell’s bill, which was defeated in the House earlier this month, would bar state or local governments from using public money to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

The Supreme Court is slated to rule on the issue later this summer, possibly striking down same-sex marriage bans in Texas and 12 other states that still prohibit the practice.

“At its core, the amendment added to HB 2977 by Sen. Lucio is an attempt to subvert any future ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the freedom to marry,” said Chuck Smith, executive director for the gay rights group Equality Texas. “Pursuing a strategy to defy the Supreme Court will cost Texas taxpayers millions in litigation and cause great damage to our economy and reputation. In its present form, HB2977 must be defeated.”

Coleman said he would do just that.

If the bill passes in the GOP-dominated Senate, which Coleman expects it to, it would need to return to the House, where the lower chamber’s members would have to concur with the changes. Coleman said if he can’t strip the anti-gay marriage off his legislation, then he would withdraw it completely.

“If I can’t get it off, then the bill goes to bill heaven,” Coleman said. “I don’t support that legislation or that language.”

See here for what I had thought would be the last update on this. Rep. Coleman is a staunch ally and knows his procedures, so if he says this will not pass, I believe him. It’s still a shock and a disgrace and another reminder that Eddie Lucio (the Senator; his son the State Rep is fine) needed to be put out to electoral pasture a long time ago. I really really really want to see someone primary him. The Trib and Equality Texas have more.

There’s still time for bad bills to be passed

Bad bill #1:

Never again

Never again

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad bill #2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bad bill #3:

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

And finally, bad bill #4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen to that.

Pointless “pastor protection” bill passes House

Whatever.

RedEquality

The House tentatively approved Thursday a bill saying that Texas pastors, churches and religious institutions can’t be sued by private parties or penalized by government for spurning gay weddings.

Many clergy, especially Southern Baptist ministers opposed to gay marriage, have testified they very much need the legal shield.

“Maybe pastors won’t be sued. But we need some protection in case they are,” said Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, bill supporter.

The bill’s critics, though, have expressed skepticism that same-sex couples would try to coerce a reluctant religious leader to officiate at their unions. Even if some did, the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1999 already protect pastors, opponents have said.

Rep. Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and out lesbian, said she hopes the U.S. Supreme Court soon will declare a constitutional right to marry.

If it does, though, Israel said she and her partner of 20 years would never ask to be married by a pastor who interprets the Bible as against loving, same-sex unions.

“Rest assured [we] will not be going to them to bless our union,” she said. “We will be going to someone who loves us and respects us for who we are and how we take care of one another.”

[…]

Estes’ bill would confer legal immunity on clergy and religious institutions if they refused to open facilities, provide services and sell goods to same-sex couples because it would violate “a sincerely held religious belief” to do so.

Rep. Scott Sanford, a McKinney Republican who is a Baptist pastor, filed a companion bill that died in last week’s bill-killing maelstrom before a key House deadline. Sanford also sponsored the Senate-passed version.

Following Sanford’s example, Estes agreed to one change. He deleted a phrase saying clergy and religious institutions could refuse to treat a same-sex marriage “as valid for any purpose.” Bill opponents warned those words could shield, say, a religious hospital from challenge if it barred a spouse legally married to someone of the same sex in another state from making medical decisions for a partner.

See here for the background. The vote was 141-2 in favor. If you’re wondering why it was so lopsided, the Trib has the answer.

“I truly believe that there is space for LGBT justice and religious freedom and this, I feel, is the space for that,” said state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who has called herself the only openly pan-sexual elected official in the nation.

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said in a speech supporting the bill that she will one day marry her longtime lesbian partner in Texas. Pastors that don’t support their union shouldn’t worry about her trying to get them to conduct the ceremony, she said. SB 2065, Israel argued, would ensure that a clergy member that wants to support the ceremony can.

“This Roman Catholic urges you to vote yes,” Israel said.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Equality Texas withdrew its opposition to the measure and encouraged House Democrats to vote for it.

So there you have it. I don’t know that I’d agree that this bill was worth supporting, but I do agree that it’s likely to not have much effect, something even its most ardent supporters concede. Gotta say, though, when the phrase “sincerely held religious belief” is invoked, the possibility exists for all kinds of unintended consequences to arise. Be careful what you ask for, pastors. Hair Balls has more.

Here comes that anti-gay marriage bill

Ready or not.

RedEquality

“Texas is pioneering a legislative effort to subvert a potential Supreme Court ruling on marriage and lock in discrimination against gay and transgender people and their families,” Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, told reporters in a conference call Monday morning.

“If successful, the strategy could spread to other states, especially in the South,” she said. “But it definitely risks a major backlash from the business community and from Texas voters … that would damage the brand of Texas for a long time to come.”

Miller was alluding to controversies that flared in Indiana and Arkansas a couple of months ago after lawmakers in both states passed religious-refusal bills inspired by a spate of federal court victories by gays and lesbians seeking to overturn state bans of same-sex marriage.

The Texas bills are drawing national attention. Several reporters from national news media organizations participated in Monday’s press call.

Organizers hope to generate a groundswell of protests by Texans, especially to center-right members of the Texas House’s GOP leadership. Miller said bill opponents are less optimistic about their chances of stopping the bills in the Texas Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has shown his eagerness to pass similar legislation by successfully persuading senators to suspend Senate rules recently to allow late filing of one such bill, she said.

[…]

Chuck Smith, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Texas, called it “a mean spirited piece of legislation.”

Smith said it would ignore Texans’ growing acceptance of gay marriage and inflict unnecessary pain.

“It will be yet another state-sanctioned slap in the face to lesbian and gay couples who simply want to make a lifetime commitment to the person that they love,” he said.

The bill could generate costly lawsuits if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ 2005 gay marriage ban, said Smith and Rebecca Robertson, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas’ legal and policy director.

Robertson said county clerks would be caught between conflicting orders from judges, much like their counterparts in Alabama. In Alabama, a federal district court judge struck down that state’s same-sex marriage ban, but the state’s highest-ranking judge ordered officials not to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples.

“We’d absolutely be on the course that Alabama is on, where you just have chaos for the time being, until it’s sorted out,” she said.

See here for the background. There’s no chance of voting this bill down, so delays and the rulebook are the Democrats’ best friends. I hope someone has a point of order or three in his or her back pocket to try to send this mess back to committee.

The Observer notes the numbers:

In addition to Bell, HB 4105 is co-authored by 88 other House Republicans. Only nine Republicans hadn’t signed on as co-authors as of Monday morning: Rodney Anderson (Grand Prairie), Sarah Davis (Houston), Craig Goldman (Fort Worth), Todd Hunter (Corpus Christi), Linda Koop (Dallas), Morgan Meyer (Dallas), John Smithee (Amarillo), Speaker Joe Straus (San Antonio) and Jason Villalba (Dallas).

None of the chamber’s 52 Democrats were listed as co-authors.

Like I said, the Republicans are seriously out of touch with the general public on this. I’d be willing to bet that even a sample of Republican primary voters would be more than ten percent favorable to same sex marriage. But as always, until someone loses an election over it, nothing will change. As for the Dems, support of same sex marriage in our world is pretty high, but it’s not unanimous. Not having a single Democratic coauthor on this bill is therefore a nice accomplishment. I hope that translates to no votes in favor of it as well, but we’ll see. There are still a couple of potential holdouts to be reckoned with.

Meanwhile, in other same sex marriage news:

The Senate on Monday tentatively approved a bill saying that clergy, churches, religious organizations and their employees don’t have to be involved in gay weddings if they don’t want to be.

The bill advanced by a vote of 21-10, despite warnings from some Democrats that it’s vague and inadvertently might provide legal cover for biased actions by religious health-care institutions or clergy who hold elective offices such as justice of the peace.

Bill author Sen. Craig Estes, though, insisted the bill just would apply to wedding ceremonies and related events.

“As far as I’m concerned, this bill does not deal with the secular in any form,” said Estes, R-Wichita Falls.

“It is not my intention to discriminate against anyone with this bill,” he said. “My intention is to protect pastors’, ministers’ and clergy’s First Amendment rights.”

See here and here for the background. You know how I feel about this, so let me quote Sen. Rodney Ellis’ statement on SB2065, since he pretty much nails it:

“This bill is a solution in search of a problem,” said Senator Ellis. “In the more than 30 states where same-sex couples can legally marry, no clergy or house of worship has ever been compelled to perform a same-sex wedding. The fact is that there are many faith traditions that embrace gay and lesbian couples and joyfully celebrate these marriages. Nobody is reliant on forcing a reluctant pastor in order to get married.”

That has always been true in any context, and it will continue to be true for as long as we have the Constitution. The Trib has more.

I repeat, no one will be forced to perform a same sex wedding

This really is a huge waste of time.

RedEquality

For some gay rights advocates, a bill in the Texas Legislature that would allow clergy to refuse to marry same-sex couples would be acceptable if it just included four more words.

As the Senate State Affairs Committee heard testimony Monday morning on Senate Bill 2065 by Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, asked for the legislation to include language making it clear that the bill only applies to marriage ceremonies. Smith wanted to ensure that the legislation would not prohibit the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses by officials in a secular context.

But Estes told committee that he did not intend to accept that amendment after pastors testified against the bill for several hours.

Smith requested that language in the bill saying that “a clergy or minister may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services” be changed to “a clergy or minister acting in that capacity may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services.”

“We are fully supportive of religious liberties,” Smith told the committee in the morning.

[…]

Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the committee’s chairwoman, said she hoped a consensus would be reached.

The legislation faced heat from Democrats at Monday’s committee hearing.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, criticized the bill because it did not define “solemnize” or “religious organization.” Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, asked if clergy could use the legislation to refuse to marry interracial couples.

“If it’s a discriminatory act, then I don’t think they should be able to hide behind the First Amendment or hide behind their faith,” Ellis said.

See here for the background. Honestly, given some of the things the Senate could be debating, I don’t mind them wasting a few hours on this, but I just don’t see what this bill will accomplish that the First Amendment doesn’t already provide. There was some testimony in favor of the bill from the crowd that thinks same sex marriage is a monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot to sap and impurify all of their precious bodily fluids, but despite the support of the Estes bill by liberal groups if the language gets tweaked and of the companion House bill that has already been modified, there was some opposition from both sides as well.

But socially conservative lawyers for the Plano-based Liberty Institute and Austin-based Texas Values Action opposed Huffman’s push to include the bill opponents’ language. They and an aide to Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke of the issue raised by Scalia, about how ministers officiating at a wedding act in dual capacities. They represent a church but also use state power to seal a marriage. That could lead to legal complexities, they warned.

Even if Estes accepted the change, which appeared unlikely, at least one ecumenical group said it would remain opposed to his bill.

Texas Impact, a progressive coalition of Christian churches and Jewish entities, said it could inspire lawsuits by ministers and employees in certain Protestant denominations with a hierarchical structure over their disagreements with the denomination’s church laws.

“We do not want ministers sued, we do not want churches sued,” said Joshua Houston, Texas Impact’s general counsel. “But we also do not want ministers able to sue denominations when their sincerely held religious beliefs are in conflict. Attorneys representing the Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist churches tell us that the way the bill is written will increase those lawsuits.”

Clearly, the simplest thing to do is to leave well enough alone. In the end the bill was voted out of committee without the modification that Equality texas and the ACLU were asking for, because we always have to do things the hard way. Unfair Park has more.

No one is going to be forced to perform a same sex wedding

Would someone please reassure Dan Patrick of this before he wets himself?

RedEquality

Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, said he sponsored Senate Bill 2065 at the urging of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. The Senate suspended its rules to allow the bill to be introduced on Tuesday, weeks past the session’s filing deadlines.

The legislation would allow a religious organization or affiliated individual, such as a member of the clergy or officiant, to refuse to preside over any marriage “if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief.” It also would allow them to refuse to provide “services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges” toward the “solemnization, formation, or celebration” of any such marriage.

“I don’t think it would be advisable to compel men or women of the cloth to do marriages that violated their closely held religious beliefs,” said Estes. “There’s a companion bill in the House, and we filed the Senate bill at the request of the lieutenant governor.”

Chuck Smith, head of the gay rights group Equality Texas, said the bill is more wide-reaching than it may appear on first reading. Because it is not restricted to officiants acting in their official capacities, Smith said, the bill would allow anyone who is ordained to discriminate against anyone at any time.

The bill is also needless, Smith added, if its purpose is to allow officiants to refuse to marry certain couples since that right already exists.

“We respect the religious freedom of clergy to determine who to marry,” said Smith. “That right is already constitutionally protected. So, in some respects, that statute is unnecessary.”

My maternal grandmother was widowed at a young age, in the early 1960s. A decade or so later, she remarried. Her new husband, my step-grandfather, had been divorced, and since his first marriage had not been annulled, they could not be married in the Catholic Church, since the Church did not recognize divorce. They had a civil marriage, and though she continued to be a regular churchgoer, she never again received Communion, since she was in a state of sin for her non-church wedding.

I bring this up to make the obvious point (as Justice Kagan did for her deliberately-being-obtuse colleague, Justice Scalia) that it has always been the case that churches and clergy have always been able to refuse to officiate at a wedding for couples that do not meet the requirements of their faith. That remains true today – divorce is still not recognized by the Catholic Church, and divorced people cannot be married in the Church without going through Church-mandated hoops, despite the fact that divorce has been legal in America for decades, if not centuries. We also now have the experience of thousands of same-sex weddings that have been performed in the country, going back ten years in the case of Massachusetts. I for one am not aware of any priest, minister, rabbi, imam, or whatever being forced to officiate at one against his or her will. Given all the publicity that every rogue baker and florist has received in the 37 states where same sex marriage is allowed, I feel confident we’d have heard of such a person if one existed.

So it should be clear that this bill is at best completely superfluous, and at worst an unconstitutional attempt to extend this right that religions and their clergy have beyond what is accepted today. So why do this – in particular, why go out of the way to do this when so much other legislation is struggling for time? A matter of values, I suppose, and a good reminder that not all values are virtuous. I just hope the state doesn’t wind up wasting too much of our tax dollars fighting unsuccessfully to salvage this in court down the line.

UPDATE: Debate on this bill has been delayed, most likely until Monday.

Not a good session for equality

I know, duh, right?

RedEquality

Texas lawmakers have filed at least 20 anti-LGBT proposals this year—likely the most in the history of any state.

It’s the type of onslaught that was widely expected among LGBT advocates, due to backlash over the spread of same-sex marriage.

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, said the group is “well-positioned” to defeat every piece of anti-LGBT legislation. Williams called it the worst session for LGBT rights since 2005—when the state’s marriage amendment passed and a proposal to ban gay foster parents was defeated on the House floor.

But things have changed since then, he said, pointing to the Texas Association of Business’ decision to oppose one well-publicized anti-LGBT proposal—a “religious freedom” amendment that would protect discrimination—prompting its author to back down.

“What’s different about this Legislature than 2005 is that Texas, like most of the nation, has evolved on LGBT issues, and that mainstream voice is emerging and is being heard in the Texas Legislature,” Williams said. “It damages the Texas brand, and I think that’s why you’re seeing so many business voices get involved. … We also know how this process works better than our opposition does.”

Williams wouldn’t elaborate on strategy, but out lesbian Rep. Celia Israel (D-Austin) suggested the best one may simply be to run out the clock.

“I feel good about our chances of stopping it, because there are so many major issues out there, that these small hateful and divisive bills will get pushed to the back of the agenda,” Israel said. “We’re going to run out of time, and we will be able to make a statement that there’s no place for that kind of law in the state of Texas.”

I should point out that Daniel Williams also posted this on Facebook:

Thirty-two pro-LGBT bills filed in the Texas legislature this session, more than we’ve ever had before, by more authors than we’ve ever had before; the most vocal, most educated, most diverse group of supporters we’ve ever had in office… and the national organizations, who seemed to have finally understood that Texas has a function other than serving as an ATM, can only howl about the bad bills – inviting people who don’t live here to add their snide comments about my home.

I don’t want to ignore or gloss over that, because it is a big deal and this isn’t 2005 any more. It’s better in some ways and worse in others. Having said that, I do remain concerned. Running out the clock is a good strategy, but it only works when the end of the legislative session really is the end of legislators being in Austin. We had too many special sessions under Rick Perry – remember, the awful HB2 passed during a special session – for me to feel confident. Maybe Greg Abbott will be different in that regard, but I expect him to come under some pressure, especially around the time SCOTUS issues a ruling on same sex marriage. The recount of signatures in the HERO repeal petition case – which we’re surely going to get Any Day Now, right? – will also be a pressure point. I hate to be a negative nellie, but I will not rest quietly until the coast really is clear.

And just to rub a little salt in it:

Barely two months after a federal judge struck down Texas’ hair-braiding regulations, a move to erase the unconstitutional statute already has bipartisan support. Not so for Texas’ anti-sodomy law, which remains on the books a dozen years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional.

“Absolutely, there is a difference,” said Rep. James White, R-Hillister, who has filed a bill to do away with the braiding statute but wants to keep a similarly illegal law that criminalizes homosexual sex.

The braiding regulation, he said, “was a way of disenfranchising them out of the marketplace. I don’t necessarily think this was the case with sodomy.”

A federal judge in January struck down the state law requiring those who teach hair braiding to get barbers’ licenses and submit to other onerous regulations. Four lawmakers, two Republicans and two Democrats, since have filed bills to remove the unconstitutional statute from the books.

A Texas law criminalizing “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex” is likely to remain on the books, however, even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional in 2003.

“By leaving this provision in the law, it’s insulting to Texans in the (lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender) community,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who has filed legislation to do away with the statute. “It’s inconsistent, bordering on hypocritical to say one should remove something that’s been struck down … and not remove other statutes and language that has been struck down.”

[…]

Texas has dozens of these unconstitutional laws still on the books, but the more politically sensitive ones have little chance of being removed, said Tulane University constitutional law professor Keith Werhan.

“That’s pretty common,” said Werhan of states’ tendencies to leave these laws alone. “Basically, part of it is going to be inertia and part of it is maybe more willful in some areas. This may fall into the willful area.”

Yeah, I’d say “willful” is a good word. Some attitudes haven’t changed since Molly Ivins was there to document them. Again, there’s a lot to be optimistic about as well, as Daniel’s post makes clear. But haters are still going to hate.

Discrimination is bad for business

Good for TAB.

RedEquality

The Texas Association of Business has come out against two religious freedom resolutions that critics say would enshrine a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people in the Texas Constitution.

TAB, which is the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, unanimously adopted a resolution last month opposing House Joint Resolution 55 and Senate Joint Resolution 10, by Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) and Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), respectively.

Chris Wallace, president of TAB, said more than 100 members of the board voted to add opposition to the resolutions to the group’s legislative agenda at a statewide meeting Feb. 17.

“We feel that this will certainly make our state look very much unwelcoming when it comes to business recruitment,” Wallace said of the resolutions. “We also have several businesses within the state, our large corporations for instance, that have diversity policies already in place, and what we’re hearing from them is they want their state to look the same way.”

Wallace pointed to the example of Toyota, which is moving its U.S. headquarters to Plano and worked with the city to pass an Equal Rights Ordinance protecting LGBT people against discrimination. He also cited damage to Arizona’s business reputation when similar legislation passed last year before it was vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer.

In addition to LGBT issues, the chamber is concerned the resolutions would allow people to claim religious exemptions to criminal, tax, health and safety, environmental quality and zoning laws. Wallace said the resolutions would also lead to a spike in litigation, costing businesses and taxpayers.

In opposing the ordinances, TAB joins progressive groups, including Equality Texas, the ACLU and the Texas Freedom Network.

“We are a very conservative business association as the state chamber, and it’s not our typical partners we have at the table with us,” Wallace said. “But we’re proud we have these partners at the table with us because we’re all working together to make sure we keep Texas open for business, and that we are seen as a place that welcomes all people and not one that excludes any groups of people.”

See here and here for some background. I pound on TAB pretty regularly around here. Often it’s because they support things I oppose, and vice versa. And often it’s because they support Republicans who then oppose the things they (and I) support. Their to-the-end patronage of immigrant hater Leo Berman remains an indelible stain on the organization. But every once in a while, they do the right thing for a good reason, and for that they should be commended. This is one of those times. Whether this will have any sway over their favored Republicans in the Lege, and whether there will be any consequences for TAB-approved candidates that cross them on this, remains to be seen. For now, kudos to them for being on the right side.

Another judge finds Texas’ ban on same sex marriage to be unconstitutional

This ruling is a bit more narrow, however.

RedEquality

A Travis County judge ruled Tuesday that the Texas ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional, but there was no rush to the altar after county officials — scrambling to assess the impact of the judge’s 3 p.m. order — declined to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, at least for now.

Probate Judge Guy Herman’s ruling, which affects only Travis County, came as part of an estate fight in which Austin resident Sonemaly Phrasavath sought to have her eight-year relationship with another woman, Stella Powell, declared a common-law marriage. Powell died last summer of colon cancer.

After an hourlong hearing in the downtown Austin courthouse, Herman found that the state ban on gay marriage violated the U.S. Constitution’s promise of equal protection and fair treatment under the law.

Whether the women’s relationship was a common-law marriage — which would entitle Phrasavath to a share of Powell’s estate — will be decided at a future date.

“It was never about property rights or about property,” Phrasavath said after the hearing. “At least for me, it was about standing up for my relationship and my marriage. If I didn’t do that, I would absolutely have no voice.”

[…]

Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, who praised Herman for his ruling, reluctantly declined to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples “at the present time,” but said county lawyers are examining the decision to determine her options.

“Right now, I think it’s no, but we are checking,” DeBeauvoir said.

Michael Knisely, the attorney for Powell’s siblings who opposed Phrasavath’s claim on her estate, said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last month declined to intervene in the case and thus isn’t in a position to ask the 3rd Court of Appeals to review Herman’s ruling. “Our office is reviewing today’s ruling from Travis County,” Paxton spokeswoman Cynthia Meyer said.

See here for the background. This ruling only affects Travis County, as Herman is a county judge. Obviously, there are the SCOTUS and Fifth Circuit appeals for the federal lawsuit, as well as the request to the Fifth Circuit to lift the stay on the original ruling. In the meantime, despite his initial lack of reaction, Ken Paxton isn’t sitting still.

Attorney General Ken Paxton on Wednesday asked the Texas Supreme Court to issue an emergency order blocking a local probate judge’s ruling that the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

[…]

Paxton is petitioning the state’s highest court to immediately halt the ruling’s effect because it is “unnecessary and overly broad” and could give rise to “legal chaos” if county clerks interpret it to mean they can begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the attorney general’s petition.

“The probate judge’s misguided ruling does not change Texas law or allow the issuance of a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman,” Paxton said in a statement.

And neither is Equality Texas:

Earlier today, Equality Texas called upon Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir to follow the law in Travis County and immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County.

On Tuesday, Travis County Judge Guy Herman issued a ruling finding that the restrictions on marriage in the Texas Family Code and in the Texas Constitution that restrict marriage to the union of a man and a woman and prohibit marriage for same-sex couples are unconstitutional because the restrictions violate the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Contrary to the county clerk’s position previously stated in the media, this ruling in fact allows her to immediately issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Travis County.

“Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir previously stated she would be happy to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples once the law allows for it. The law in Travis County now allows for the freedom to marry. Equality Texas calls upon the county clerk to stand with us–on the right side of history,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said.

Just as the Supreme Court may issue a marriage ruling this summer that applies to all 50 states, and just as the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals may issue a marriage ruling any day now that applies to the 5th Circuit, Judge Herman has issued a ruling that has the effect of law in Travis County.

So things are happening, and they may change quickly. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: According to BOR, Travis County Clerk Dana deBeauvoir did issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple this morning. Wow.

The situation in Plano is complicated

I had not realized this.

The nation’s largest LGBT political advocacy group indicated this week it is unlikely to help defend a nondiscrimination ordinance in Plano due to exemptions affecting the transgender community.

The announcement from the Washington, D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign could amount to a costly setback for supporters of the ordinance, as the organization recently poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a similar fight in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

[…]

Cathryn Oakley, HRC’s legislative counsel for state and municipal advocacy, told the Observer on Thursday that the organization hasn’t made a final decision about its role if the ordinance appears on the ballot. However, Oakley also made clear that HRC would be reluctant to join the fight due to exemptions including one that appears to bar people from using public restrooms according to their gender identity—a provision which she called “transphobic.”

“The language in Plano is very problematic and in terms of investing a lot of resources in an ordinance that has a lot of problems, it’s difficult to see why that’s necessarily the best use of resources,” Oakley said. “If we had been consulted in the drafting of this bill, we would have withdrawn our support, and given that, it’s hard to justify defending it as valid.”

[…]

Nell Gaither, president of Dallas-based Trans Pride Initiative, has posted blistering attacks on social media saying exemptions in the ordinance amount to bigotry and accusing other LGBT groups of signing off on them.

“This is not a Plano issue. This is a Texas issue, and more,” Gaither wrote recently. “If they get away with the lie that this is an LGBT equality policy it will set a dangerous precedent that will be very difficult to overcome for many, many years.”

I confess, I totally missed this aspect of the Plano equal rights ordinance. My fault for not paying sufficiently close attention to the details and for not having more trans resources in my regular reading list. The Dallas Voice covered Gaither’s criticisms:

Nell Gaither isn’t having it with Plano’s equal rights ordinance.

If anything, the Dallas transgender activist and Trans Pride Initiative president says she thinks the nondiscrimination ordinance, passed by the Plano City Council in December, is not just flawed but actually harmful.

On Wednesday, Jan. 21 TPI released a position statement denouncing the ordinance. And the organization did not hold back: “[We are] publishing this statement to express our conviction that the Plano Code of Ordinances Section 2-11, as modified by the so-called ‘Equal Rights Ordinance,’ is detrimental to the trans community and other marginalized persons who may experience discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Among the seven types of exemptions in the ordinance are nonprofit (except for city contractors), religious and educational organizations. Gaither also believes the ordinance contradicts the announcement by outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last year that Title VII of the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act protects gender identity and sexual orientation.

Exempting organizations from the ordinance means any complaint filed under Title VII could be disregarded, Gaither said.

“It’s a green light to discriminate with no recourse,” she added.

[…]

Gaither says Plano and its elected officials don’t bear all the blame.

“Plano shut out the trans community because they didn’t understand the issues or the tactics of the conservative religious groups,” Gaither said. “GALA [ Gay and Lesbian Alliance of North Texas ] has no interest in the trans community so didn’t do the right thing in their communications by insisting that the ordinance actually be an equal rights ordinance. [So] we have a lose/lose situation that is incredibly problematic for the broad community.”

Gaither also chided Equality Texas for accepting an ordinance that doesn’t adequately protect anyone in the LGBT community, especially trans people.

So here we have another object lesson in the need for diversity, and the vital importance of ensuring adequate representation of all stakeholders when undertaking a project like this. I encourage you to read the Trans Pride Initiative’s position paper on the Plano ERO and the specific points of concern it has with it. Their belief is that repealing the ordinance now would lead to a better outcome later. I’m sure some people will disagree with that. I don’t know how I feel about that as a strategic move. But I get where Gaither is coming from, and she totally has a point. Discrimination is still discrimination, and if this law fails to fully address it, indeed if it makes some forms of discrimination easier to get away with, then the bad of this law outweighs the good.

You may recall that this was a similar point of contention in the process that led to Houston’s equal rights ordinance. In the end, it was resolved favorably. It’s truly unfortunate that this didn’t happen in Plano, especially if it was a calculated move.

Although adamant they didn’t sign off on the exemptions, both Equality Texas and GALA North Texas indicated they plan to defend the ordinance if it appears on the ballot.

“While the ordinance is not perfect, it is a fact that it includes protections from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations for LGBT residents and veterans in Plano that did not previously exist,” Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith said in a statement to the Observer. “While criticisms expressed by leaders in the transgender community are valid, it is imperative that we work together to ensure that this ordinance is not repealed in the short term and is improved in the long term.”

Jeanne Rubin, a spokeswoman for GALA North Texas, called HRC’s likely decision to sit out the ballot fight disappointing.

“In politics, as much of a bummer as it is, everything is incremental, and I know that’s sort of a dirty word for our community,” said Rubin, who’s also an Equality Texas board member. “If this ordinance goes down, not only will Plano not touch this issue with a 10-foot pole, but no other suburban city out here will, and that doesn’t do L, G, B or T any good.”

Rubin and others said they believe the exemptions were included because officials hoped to head off attacks seen in other cities over transgender protections in public accommodations.

But if that’s the case, the strategy hasn’t worked. Despite the exemptions, opponents have repeatedly and publicly asserted that the ordinance would allow men to enter women’s restrooms and prey on children.

In other words, the same lies and bullshit being spread by the same kind of people who call themselves “Christians” as what we’re seeing here. I don’t know how some of these people can look at themselves in a mirror. The real tragedy here is that if we had passed ordinances like the HERO years ago, we wouldn’t be having these problems now. This Trib story, which provides an overview of the ongoing fights in Houston and Plano, provides this tidbit at the end:

In 2000, Fort Worth became the first major Texas city to update its nondiscrimination ordinance to include protections for sexual identity. Then-Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr said he couldn’t remember facing the kind of opposition council members in Houston and Plano have faced.

“Frankly, I don’t remember any specifics of the debate about it,” Barr said this week. “That speaks to the fact that we passed it without a whole lot of fanfare.”

And to how our politics and our discourse have gotten so debased. Let that be a lesson to us all. Unfair Park has more.

Shoveling sand against the same sex marriage tide

Rep. Cecil Bell is threatening to hold his breath till he turns purple if those nasty federal courts give the go ahead to same sex marriage in Texas.

RedEquality

State or local government employees giving out same-sex marriage licenses would stop receiving their salaries under a bill filed Wednesday for the 84th legislative session.

Titled the “Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act,” House Bill 623 would prevent same-sex marriage from becoming legal in Texas. In 2005, voters backed a proposition defining marriage in the Texas Constitution as “solely the union of one man and one woman.” A San Antonio federal judge last year found the state’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional but immediately issued a stay on his ruling. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals [heard] oral arguments in the case on Friday.

State Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, said he filed HB 623 to prevent any federal court or federal action from allowing gay marriage in Texas.

“The federal government is trying to act to create moral standards, and that’s just not acceptable,” Bell said.

His bill says taxes or public funds can’t be used to issue same-sex marriage licenses or be used to enforce a court order to recognize same-sex marriage.

The bill also requires state courts to dismiss legal actions that challenge a provision of the bill and award legal costs and attorney fees to the defendants. Citing the 11th Amendment, which gives states sovereign immunity, the bill also says the state isn’t subject to a lawsuit for complying with the act — regardless of a contradictory federal ruling.

“It is my belief and expectation that our courts should not be tied up in that matter,” Bell said.

It takes a truly special legal mind to come up with reasoning like that. The obvious response:

Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, told the Observer that Bell’s assertion that Texas can ignore federal law is “preposterous.”

“To then turn around and threaten the pensions, benefits and jobs of state employees for just doing their jobs is abhorrent,” Williams said. “It’s buying a lawsuit for the state.”

With the session set to begin Jan. 13, Williams said it’s too early to predict whether Bell’s bill has a chance of passing.

“It’s certainly far outside the mainstream, but it’s something we”ll be watching very carefully,” Williams said. “The Legislature can always pass unconstitutional laws, and then it’s litigated in the courts. I’m guessing Cecil Bell wants to make sure Ken Paxton has plenty of work to do in his new job as attorney general.”

Of course, here you see the sheer genius of Bell’s bill: It says Texas will stick its fingers in its ears and refuse to listen to what the courts have to say, and where do we have to go to fight this bill if it passes? To the courts! And poof, just like that Dan Savage disappears in a puff of logic, or something like that. It might be better to oppose this in the Legislature and ensure that it never sees the light of day, and to that end Equality Texas is sounding the alarm. It would be a good idea to contact your representatives and make sure they know that you do not support HB 623. It’s easy to be snarky and cynical about crap like this – and Lord knows, there’s going to be a lot more of it coming – but that’s not going to help. Let’s take this seriously and make sure our elected officials – even and especially those we didn’t vote for – know how we feel about it.

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.

RedEquality

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.

Villalba gets defensive about his pro-discrimination bill

I don’t know if Rep. Jason Villalba is willfully dense or just confused, but either way this is a big pile of BS.

RedEquality

State Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) remains adamant that a proposed constitutional amendment he filed earlier this month isn’t intended to undermine local ordinances prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination.

But Villalba also continues to tout the fact that he received input in drafting the amendment from a lawmaker known for his anti-LGBT views and from the Liberty Institute, which is actively fighting a nondiscrimination ordinance in Plano.

Villalba has characterized his HJR 55 as a tamer version of SJR 10, a similar religious freedom amendment introduced in the Senate by Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

And Villalba has objected to a “license to discriminate” label that was attached to his amendment in an Observer headline and in a fundraising appeal from Progress Texas, denying accusations that the measure is designed to undermine local nondiscrimination ordinances by allowing business owners to claim religious exemptions.

“Not true at all,” Villalba told Breitbart Texas for an article published Sunday. “That was not our intention at all. … I’m not trying to pander to the right, or to offend the LGBT community or to support discrimination.”

Villalba told Breitbart he supports the authority of local governments to pass LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, and said HJR 55 is instead designed to protect things like nativity scenes on government property.

But LGBT advocates continue to question Villalba’s motives—particularly since he unveiled HJR 55 on Facebook by posting an Empower Texans article slamming the Plano ordinance shortly after it passed. “We must stand athwart those who seek to eliminate every vestige of our religious heritage from the public square,” Villalba wrote. “Tomorrow, we fight back.”

On Monday morning, Villalba took to Facebook again to post the Breitbart article, writing above it: “Many of you have asked about what HJR 55 actually does. In essence, it protects the free exercise of religion in Texas. Here is an article that spells it out nicely. Special thanks to Matthew Krause and Liberty Institute for their help and insight in putting this together.”

Rep. Krause (R-Arlington) received the lowest score of any lawmaker on LGBT issues from Equality Texas following the 2013 session.

In response to a comment below his Facebook post Monday from this reporter, Villalba sent a chat message referencing Campbell’s resolution.

“Perhaps I should drop HJR 55 and let the alternative version pass,” Villalba wrote. “Is that what you would prefer?”

Asked whether he believes Campbell’s resolution, which has been defeated in three consecutive sessions, would pass in 2015, Villalba referenced an expected shift to the right in the Senate next year thanks to November election results.

“Have you not seen what just happened in the Senate?” Villalba wrote. “It [SJR 10] would easily pass.”

Asked whether he strategically introduced HJR 55 as a more moderate alternative to SJR 10, Villalba said: “My goal is to pass the best bill that advances the cause of religious liberty.”

See here for the background. It’s hard to know where to begin with all this. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years, it’s that when someone who isn’t me says that something will affect them negatively, it’s best for me to at least hear and try to understand their reasons why they say that thing will harm them before I try to explain to them why they’re wrong to feel that way. Perhaps such an approach might benefit Rep. Villalba as well. As for his insistence that his HJR 55 is but a heroic attempt to head off the much worse SJR 10, it might be worthwhile for someone to explain to Rep. Villalba that if he were to vote against SJR 10, the odds are very good that it would not be able to pass out of the House, what with Democrats being in near-unanimous opposition plus the expected No from Rep. Sarah Davis. But really, a little more listening to the people who would be harmed and a little less listening to the people who would harm them would go a long way.