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The Lawrence decision, 15 years later

Time flies, but society moves slowly.

Theirs was an unlikely case.

John Lawrence and Tyron Garner weren’t in love, they weren’t a committed couple and it’s not clear that they were even having sex one September 1998 evening in Lawrence’s Houston apartment when a police officer burst in and arrested them for violating a Texas law that prohibited “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” That law was rarely enforced, especially in homes — how often, after all, do police appear in private bedrooms? In the Lawrence case, officers entered in response to a false report of a weapons disturbance.

The factual details of that night are often called into question; Lawrence told one interviewer that he and Garner were seated some 15 feet apart when police arrived. But the two pleaded “no contest” to the sodomy charge, allowing them — and their team of advocate lawyers — to challenge the law itself.

Ultimately, they won, and it was their unlikely case that sparked a sweeping ruling from the nation’s highest court, one that overturned not just Texas’ ban on sodomy but 13 similar laws across the country.

That Supreme Court decision was June 26, 2003 — 15 years ago Tuesday. One law professor at the time said it “removed the reflexive assumption of gay people’s inferiority,” laying the legal groundwork for same-sex marriage. Without the immediate, presumptive criminal charge against LGBT people, new doors were opened — new jobs, new opportunities, new freedom in their skin.

The ruling “gave lesbian, bisexual and gay people back their dignity,” said Camilla Taylor, a Lambda Legal attorney who started with the legal advocacy group in 2003, just in time to watch her colleague, Paul Smith — a gay man himself — argue Lawrence before the Supreme Court.

“Everyone knew this case had the power to change the world. The court gave us everything we asked for and more — and went big, just as we demanded,” Taylor said.

Ten years later, June 26 became an even more important milestone for gay rights when the high court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. And then, in 2015, the date again gained new significance with the ruling known as Obergefell that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

But this year, as the date rolls around, LGBT Texans are still reckoning with the legal and political landscape in a state where they have few protections against discrimination and their rights as couples are again being questioned in court.

Fifteen years later, some wonder, how much progress have same-sex couples in Texas really made?

You want to know how long I’ve been doing this blog thing? Long enough to have blogged about the Lawrence decision. As this story notes, the next big test of where we stand as a society with regard to the rights and dignity of same-sex couples comes in January, right here in Houston, when the anti-same sex employee benefits lawsuit gets heard in a Harris County district court. It’s a bullshit case from top to bottom, but as we’ve seen lately from both the state and federal Supreme Courts, being bullshit is not a hindrance when there’s an agenda at play. Just remember you’ll have at least one and probably two opportunities to have your own influence on our Supreme Court, with the first one being this November. Please do make the most of it.

Anti-same sex employee benefits lawsuit moved back to state court

On and on we go.

Nearly three years after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the city of Houston continues to battle for the rights of its gay workers.

On Tuesday, a judge struck down Houston’s attempts to defend its city benefits policy in federal court. The case will be remanded back to state court, and the city will have to pay the legal fees of the two men suing to overturn the policy, which extends spousal benefits to same-sex marriages.

The outcome of this case will be limited to the city of Houston. Dallas has a similar policy that has not been challenged.

But the fight is a good example of the war waged to erase, erode or at least stop the expansion of LGBT rights since since the 2015 marriage ruling, Noel Freeman said.

“These are people who are never, ever going to give up. They are going to go to their grave hating us,” Freeman, the first city of Houston employee to receive spousal benefits for his husband, told The Dallas Morning News on Wednesday. “And there is no court case … that’s going to change their minds.

“That’s just the way it is.”

[…]

In a last-ditch effort to shift the fight to federal court, Houston asked to move the case to the Southern District Court earlier this year. On Tuesday, Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled the city did not prove federal court was the proper venue and ordered it to pay Pidgeon and Hicks’ legal fees.

The case will be remanded to Harris County District Court. Married gay city employees will continue to receive benefits for their spouses until a final ruling.

See here for previous coverage of this atrocity, which is still a thing because our feckless State Supreme Court allowed itself to be pressured into giving the case a second chance after previously refusing to consider it. Noel Freeman, who’s a friend of mine, is quite right that the people pursuing this action (including Jared Woodfill) will never give up – if this suit is ultimately ruled against them, they’ll find some other pretext to keep LGBT folks from being treated as full and equal members of society. We all need to oppose the politicians who enable these haters, and support those who favor equality. It’s the only way this will get better.

Federal court ruling says LGBT workers in Texas are protected from discrimination

This is a big deal.

For the first time in Texas, a federal judge said LGBT workers should be protected from employment discrimination based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Judge Lee Rosenthal, the chief judge in the Houston-based Southern District Court of Texas, said in a decision last week that federal employment law protecting workers from discrimination based on sex also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Nicole Wittmer, an engineer who alleged she wasn’t hired by energy company Phillips 66 because she’s transgender, couldn’t prove her claim, Rosenthal ruled. But if she had proof, the judge added, Wittmer would have had cause to sue under federal law.

Rosenthal’s ruling doesn’t mean it’s suddenly illegal in Texas to discriminate against LGBT workers. But it may be cited in the future by others who believe their sexual orientation or gender identity was a factor in workplace decisions, Wittmer’s lawyer told The Dallas Morning News.

“We’re certainly disappointed that this particular ruling did not fall in her favor,” Alfonso Kennard Jr. said Monday. “The silver lining here is it has helped to define the landscape for people who have been discriminated in the workplace due to their transgender status.”

“This ruling is earth-shattering — in a good way.”

[…]

Harper Jean Tobin, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality, characterized her decision as part of a growing consensus that Title VII covers trans workers as well.

“This ruling, along with dozens of others, shows that discrimination against transgender workers is illegal under federal law,” Tobin said in a prepared statement. “This is the overwhelming approach of the courts across the country over the last decade.”

Dale Carpenter, a constitutional law and LGBT rights expert at Southern Methodist University, said the ruling was the first of its kind in Texas.

It goes beyond a 2008 case in which another federal judge in Texas said gender nonconforming persons could not be discriminated against in the workplace, he said, because this one also recognizes transgender status as a protected trait.

Here is a copy of the ruling, which is embedded in the story. Other federal court judges have made similar rulings, but none have been in the Fifth Circuit, so those rulings did not apply to Texas. My non-lawyer’s take on this is that while it has laid down a principle, we won’t know how that applies in specific cases until someone files a lawsuit based on this principle. I suspect it won’t be very long before that happens, so let’s keep an eye on this.

Record number of LGBT candidates running this year

OutSmart does the math.

A record 40 openly LGBTQ people will run for public office in Texas in 2018, according to an extensive review by OutSmart. That’s roughly twice as many as in any previous election cycle in the state’s history.

The unprecedented field of LGBTQ candidates includes two for governor, one for Texas Supreme Court, three for Texas Senate, 10 for Texas House, eight for Congress, and 14 for various judicial seats.

Twenty of the LGBTQ candidates are female, and 20 are male. Five are transgender, three are African-American, and eight are Hispanic. Six are incumbents who are among the state’s 18 current LGBTQ elected and appointed officials.

“I think for many, the motivation to run is in sync with the adage, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,’” says Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, the statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. “We have recently been witnessing a continuous assault on our rights and freedoms. It is only by raising our voices and securing our ‘place at the table’ that we can ensure our constitutional rights to equal protection under the law are preserved.”

All but four of the LGBTQ candidates in Texas are running as Democrats. Kerry Douglas McKennon is running for lieutenant governor as a Libertarian. Republican Shannon McClendon is challenging anti-LGBTQ incumbent state senator Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) in the District 25 Republican primary. Republican Mauro Garza is running for the Congressional District 21 seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio). And New Hope mayor Jess Herbst, the state’s only trans elected official, is seeking re-election in a nonpartisan race.

[…]

The gubernatorial race is one of at least two in which openly LGBTQ canidates will face each other in the Democratic primary. The other is Congressional District 27, where gay candidate Eric Holguin and trans woman Vanessa Edwards Foster are among a slew of Democrats who have filed to run for the seat being vacated by U.S.representative Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi).

I missed Holguin and Foster when I noted the plethora of LGBT candidates in an earlier post; my apologies for the oversight. There are eight such candidates for State House who are not incumbents, plus two (Reps. Celia Israel and Mary Gonzalez) who are, and as the story notes about a third of all these candidates are from Harris County. Some of these candidates, like Gina Ortiz Jones and Julie Johnson, have already attracted significant establishment support. Others will likely follow after the primaries, and still others will fade away once the votes are counted in March. But as they say, you can’t win if you don’t play, and the increased number of players is a positive sign. I wish them all well. Link via Think Progress.

There’s also a companion story about Fran Watson and her candidacy in SD17. Like the DMN story about Mark Phariss, it identifies her as seeking to be the “first openly LGBTQ candidate elected to state’s upper chamber”, and also like that story it does not mention that she is not alone in that pursuit. Which, given that OutSmart listed Phariss in the cover story about all the LGBT candidates is a little odd to me, but whatever. The point is, there are two candidates with a legit shot at that designation.

More on Mark Phariss

I figured it was just a matter of time before someone wrote a feature story about Mark Phariss’ candidacy for State Senate.

Mark Phariss

The man who sued Texas to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage will run for Senate as a Democrat, vying for the seat that represents much of Collin County.

Mark Phariss told The Dallas Morning News he decided to run after seeing Democrats win in other Republican strongholds, like Virginia and Alabama.

“When I was accepting the fact that I was gay, there were two things I kind of thought I had to give up: One, getting married, and two, running for political office,” Phariss said Tuesday. “I need to quit assuming what people will think. I need to allow them the choice.”

Phariss, a business attorney based in Plano, and longtime partner Victor Holmes, an Air Force veteran, were two of four plaintiffs who sued Texas in 2013 over its ban on same-sex marriage. Their case was in progress when the U.S. Supreme Court extended the right to marry to all same-sex couples in June 2015.

Phariss and Holmes wed just months later. Between the day the two met and the day they could legally call each other “husband,” 18 years had passed.

Phariss will first face Plano resident and engineer Brian Chaput in the Democratic primary on March 6. Whoever wins that race will proceed to the November general election against either Angela Paxton or Phillip Huffines, who are duking it out for the GOP nomination.

Paxton is the wife of Attorney General Ken Paxton, an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage, and Huffines is the twin brother of Don Huffines, a Republican senator who represents Dallas. If Phariss advances to the general election and wins, he’d be Texas’ first openly gay state senator.

Well, not exactly. That’s because Fran Watson is also running for State Senate, in SD17, and as that is a more purple district than SD08, she arguably has the better chance of earning that distinction. But hey, who knows, maybe both of them will be elected. In that case, they can toss a coin or use the random draw for seniority, which is used for office-selection purposes, to determine who the true “first openly gay state senator” is. I’m sure neither of them would mind having that debate.

SCOTUS declines to hear Houston’s appeal of same-sex marriage lawsuit

Disappointing, but nowhere close to the end of the line.

Denying the city of Houston’s request, the U.S. Supreme Court will not review a June decision by the Texas Supreme Court, which ruled that the landmark decision legalizing same-sex marriage does not fully address the right to marriage benefits.

The high court on Monday announced it would not take up the case — which centers on Houston’s policy to provide spouses of gay and lesbian employees the same government-subsidized marriage benefits it provides to opposite-sex spouses — just months after the city of Houston filed its appeal, arguing the state court’s June decision “disregarded” precedent.

In that decision, the Texas Supreme Court threw out a lower court ruling that said spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized marriage benefits, and it unanimously ordered a trial court to reconsider the case. The ruling found that there’s still room for state courts to explore “the reach and ramifications” of marriage-related issues that resulted from the legalization of same-sex marriage.

That’s despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015 and noted that now-defunct marriage laws were unequal in how they denied same-sex couples the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples.

See here for the previous update. What this means is that the district court needs to reconsider the lawsuit in light of the state Supreme Court’s assertion that Obergefell may have made marriage universal, but it did not specifically address the question of whether same-sex marriages are entitled to the same actual rights and benefits as traditional marriage. If all this sounds to you like unfathomable pinhead-ery, in which the concept of marriage is divided into an upper class and an underclass based on biology and the easily offended sensibilities of a couple of old coots, you’re correct. But this is where we are. The city will continue to provide spousal benefits for all its married employees, as it has the right to do, at least for now. The Chron, the Dallas Observer, the Texas Observer, and the Current have more.

Kirkland for Supreme Court

Good.

Steven Kirkland

Houston State District Court Judge Steven Kirkland has announced his candidacy for a seat on the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court, making him the first openly gay candidate to run for the state’s highest civil court.

Kirkland, a Democrat, is seeking Place 2 on the court, which is currently held by Justice Don Willett. Willett was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by President Donald Trump in September, setting the stage for an open primary if Willett wins Senate confirmation.

“I’m running because the Texas Supreme Court has entered far too many decisions recently that reek of politics and it’s time to change that,” Kirkland said.

Kirkland points to the court’s recent unanimous decision on June 30 in Pidgeon v. Turner, which ruled that the City of Houston should not have extended its benefits policy to same-sex couples as a primary example of a political decision.

Kirkland notes that since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide that “marriage means marriage.”
“They were thumbing their noses at the law and thumbing their noses at the U.S. Supreme Court, all to protect themselves in the Republican primary,” Kirkland said of the ruling.

He’s dead-on right about that, and with any luck our state Supreme Court will get smacked down by the federal one. Kirkland’s candidacy, whatever happens next November, will provide an opportunity to remind everyone what a crappy and craven ruling that was, and that we the people have a chance to do something about it. Kirkland joins his colleague RK Sandill in mounting a statewide race. (Like Sandill, Kirkland is not on the ballot for district court again until 2020.) We need one more to fill out this slate, plus three for the Court of Criminal Appeals. Much as I love these guys, I do hope we get some candidates from outside Harris County as well. OutSmart has more.

Ruby Polanco

This happened late last month, and kind of got lost in the Harvey fallout.

Ruby Polanco

A year after Ruby Polanco first noticed that the San Antonio Independent School District’s non-discrimination statement for students and employees didn’t mention gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, the 17-year-old won her first policy victory.

Polanco submitted a petition and spoke to SAISD’s board of trustees, which voted unanimously last week to add those categories.

“It’s a matter of protection and equal education and safety for all, especially the district’s most vulnerable members,” Polanco told the board. “What makes discrimination based on other factors more significant than discrimination based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation?”

Not counting Twitter, it was Polanco’s first foray into advocacy — but she isn’t done. The Young Women’s Leadership Academy senior is contacting other school districts around the state and urging them to make the same changes.

“I want to do more for those districts where students are still left out of those statements,” Polanco said.

[…]

SAISD’s non-discrimination statements already prohibited gender-based discrimination against students or employees, and its non-discrimination policy for students included an explanation that gender-based harassment included “conduct based on the student’s gender, the student’s expression of characteristics perceived as stereotypical for the student’s gender, or the student’s failure to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity.” The policy gave examples of gender-based harassment “regardless of the student’s or the harasser’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Even with that definition, Polanco said, districts need to be more specific as times change.

“Without that language, it can be interpreted different ways,” she said. “If a transgender girl had applied to our school before, it would be a question, but now it’s a reassurance: You will not be discriminated against.”

SAISD’s official statement is here. The updated policy was adopted on August 21, but it wasn’t until last week at the subsequent board meeting that the conservative backlash began in earnest. There’s nothing new here under the sun – the same tiresome lies are being used against the policy by the usual assortment of liars and the rabble they are able to rouse with those lies – but if we’ve learned anything from the HERO fight, it’s that one cannot sleep on this cacophony. So please, my friends and fellow travelers in San Antonio, get organized and be prepared for whatever campaign activity these jokers have planned. And please make sure Ruby Polanco gets all the support she needs to keep doing what she’s doing. We need more like her.

Judgmental

The only bench this guy should be allowed on is a park bench.

I am staring INTO YOUR SOUL

Jeff Mateer, a high-ranking official in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office who President Donald Trump has nominated for a federal judgeship, said in speeches in 2015 that transgender children are part of “Satan’s plan” and argued same-sex marriage would open the floodgates for “disgusting” forms of marriage, according to CNN.

“In Colorado, a public school has been sued because a first grader and I forget the sex, she’s a girl who thinks she’s a boy or a boy who thinks she’s a girl, it’s probably that, a boy who thinks she’s a girl,” Mateer said in a May 2015 speech first reported by CNN, referencing a Colorado lawsuit that involved a transgender girl’s parents suing her school for prohibiting her from using the restroom she preferred. “I mean it just really shows you how Satan’s plan is working and the destruction that’s going on.”

In the same speech, Mateer also criticized the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage as taking the nation back to a time of “debauchery.”

“I mean, it’s disgusting,” he said. “I’ve learned words I didn’t know. There are people who marry themselves. Somebody wanted to marry a tree. People marrying their pets. It’s just like — you know, you read the New Testament and you read about all the things and you think, ‘Oh, that’s not going on in our community.’ Oh yes it is. We’re going back to that time where debauchery rules.”

All righty then. Note that this wasn’t pulled out of an old email or a paper he wrote in college, it’s from a speech he made at a public event two years ago. Is there any reason to believe that Jeff Mateer would treat everyone who came before his court in a fair and impartial manner? Surely any LGBT person would have good cause to doubt that, but so would anyone who doesn’t share Mateer’s views on, well, pretty much anything. He’s made a career out of claiming that privileges people of his religious faith. “Travesty” is not a strong enough word for making this guy a visiting judge, much less giving him a lifetime appointment to a federal bench. Unfortunately, he’s far from the only such nominee, in Texas and all around the country. The Chron and the Current have more.

City goes to SCOTUS over same-sex spousal benefits

Good.

The City of Houston and Mayor Sylvester Turner filed a petition Friday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a decision that came down earlier this summer, concluding that states did not have to provide publicly funded benefits to same-sex couples, according to a news release from the city.

The decision in Pidgeon v. Parker from the Texas Supreme Court on June 30 said states did not have to provide government employee benefits to all married persons, regardless of whether their marriages are same sex or opposite sex.

The Texas court claims the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges, that recognized marriage rights among gay couples did not determine whether same-sex couples have spousal benefits. The court also said the Pavan vs. Smith case does not conclude whether same-sex couples are entitled to spousal benefits.

See here and here for the background, and here for the city’s press release. There is also a lawsuit filed by affected employees against the city to force it to continue paying the benefits, which as this statement indicates the city is doing and intends to continue as long as a court doesn’t order it not to. The Pavan v. Smith case held that “Having chosen to make its birth certificates more than mere markers of biological relationships and to use them to give married parents a form of legal recognition that is not available to unmarried parents, Arkansas may not, consistent with Obergefell v. Hodges, deny married same-sex couples that recognition”. Seems pretty damn clear that the same standard would apply for employee benefits, but as we know some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Kudos to the city for trying to short-circuit this homophobic nonsense.

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”

[…]

With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

Houston city employees file their own lawsuit (again) on spousal benefits

A shame it’s had to come to this, but this is where we are.

On Thursday, three married couples from Houston filed a lawsuit in federal court aimed at forcing the city to preserve health coverage and other benefits for same-sex spouses of city employees. That’s because, despite the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which affirmed same-sex marriage nationwide, the Texas Supreme Court this summer opted for something more like marriage equality-lite, ruling that same-sex spouses of government employees in Texas aren’t guaranteed the actual benefits of marriage such as dental, health or life insurance.

Kenneth Upton is a Dallas lawyer and senior counsel with the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal, which is representing the married couples that filed Thursday’s lawsuit. He says it’s become clear Texas state courts have no intention of upholding marriage equality.

“I don’t know a judge in the Southern District of Texas that’s going to thumb their nose at both the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court,” he told the Observer on Thursday. “We need to be in federal court, because that’s who’s going to follow the law.”

[…]

Upton says the Texas courts’ handling of marriage equality post-Obergefell has been “an almost Alice in Wonderland kind of scenario,” which is why Lambda Legal wants to move the issue to the federal courts. “What makes it so offensive is there’s no question what the law is.”

One of Upton’s clients is a Houston police officer. “She puts her life on the line for the city and the people who live there every day,” he said. Were she to die in the line of duty, Upton said, “her surviving spouse would be treated differently than that of a straight officer, and that’s just offensive.”

See here and here for the recent background. The Associated Press adds some details:

Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, said in a statement the city, as does the state of Texas, offers employees coverage for all legally married spouses without regard to sex.

“As Mayor Sylvester Turner said in June, ‘The city of Houston will continue to be an inclusive city that respects the legal marriages of all employees. Marriage equality is the law of the land, and everyone is entitled to the full benefits of marriage, regardless of the gender of their spouse,'” Bernstein said.

But the mayor might not have a choice if ordered by a judge to stop paying them, Upton said.

“The city is caught in the middle,” he said.

Upton said he expects the Harris County civil court judge will grant the motion for an injunction blocking the payment of benefits because the judge has granted similar requests twice before.

Also named in Thursday’s lawsuit are the two Houston residents who initially filed the lawsuit in 2013 asking that the city stop paying such benefits and who were backed by a coalition of religious and socially conservative groups.

See here for more on the original lawsuit, here for the Lambda Legal overview of the case, and here for a copy of the complaint. This bit, from Section VI on the Current Litigation, explains where we are and why this lawsuit needed to be filed:

52. The Texas Supreme Court has not yet issued its mandate returning jurisdiction to the state district court. Nonetheless, the Taxpayers prematurely filed an Amended Petition and Brief seeking a new preliminary injunction against the Mayor and the City to prohibit them from continuing benefits to same-sex spouses of employees, including the Plaintiffs. The filing also shows the Taxpayers will request an order requiring the City to claw back benefits previously paid for spousal coverage to same-sex spouses of City employees, including Plaintiffs.

53. Barring the filing of a petition for rehearing by the City or a stay granted pending a petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, the Texas Court’s mandate will vest jurisdiction back in the trial court as early as August 17, 2017, at which time there is a substantial likelihood the state district court will issue another temporary injunction—the third one issued by that court—ordering the City to withdraw, and even claw back (i.e., demand immediate reimbursement from the employees), spousal benefits from the City Employees and their Spouses without further notice.

Both of the previous injunctions were overturned by federal court order. That’s the goal here, to prevent or knock down another such injunction. Please note that the state court lawsuit was filed in the 310th Family District Court, presided over by Judge Lisa Millard, the granter of those injunctions. Judge Millard is up for election next year, and Democrat Sonya Heath has filed to run against her; Heath does not currently have a primary opponent. Elections have consequences, and that will be your opportunity to create some. The Dallas Voice has more.

OutSmart talks to Kim Ogg

Another good read about our new DA, one that goes into her personal background in some depth.

Kim Ogg

John Wright: Your father, Jack Ogg, was a longtime Texas state legislator, and your late mother was well-known for her charity work. What it was like coming out to your parents?

Kim Ogg: It was traumatic. My parents were of the generation—they felt like my being gay was their responsibility, and that they were morally accountable. I had grown up in politics, and I understood that being gay was a political liability to my father and family, and so it was excruciating. Our family broke apart for some time, but we’re so close that what that did was give me time to go grow up, which I did. I had been on my father’s “payroll” from birth to college, but the day I got out of college I was on my own, and I’ve been on my own ever since. My family and I didn’t see each other on anything but holidays after that for some time—almost four years.

Our family broke up, [but then] we came around. I quit being. . . I was a little militant. An example would be that I wore camouflage for almost a whole year. I was at war with the world. And then it turned out that to get and keep a good job, you needed to have a broader wardrobe.

[…]

In 1996, you ran for district judge as a Republican, and longtime antigay activist Steve Hotze endorsed your opponent in the primary. Were you gay-baited in that race?

They didn’t gay-bait me; they gay-crucified me. But they didn’t do it in print. They did it through a telephone and whisper campaign, and they injected a third candidate into the race. I did not interview with Hotze, and I never answered any questions for him, so I never lied about my homosexuality. [But] the whole courthouse knew. It was funny, they didn’t do an antigay mailer, but they did a whisper campaign. It was enough to force me into a primary runoff where extremists usually win, and so the more conservative candidate won.

Twenty years later, in 2016, you were gay-baited again by your Republican opponent, former district attorney Devon Anderson, and it became a major news story.

It was my lifelong fear, being called a lesbian in front of my entire hometown—4.5 million people, on television. It’s like showing up with no clothes on or something—that bad dream that you have. When it finally happened, I knew it was exploitable and could benefit me, but I had to magnify that thing that I was so afraid of. And so we just sent it out to everybody—it was so freeing. It was sort of like coming out to my family. At that point, you don’t have anything left to lose. You have everything to gain. I realized at that moment how much that fear—it wasn’t a false fear—but it felt so good to let it go and just send it out to the world: “Devon Anderson called me a lesbian.” Discrimination, no matter how you dress it up, is wrong. For Devon to have regressed to name-calling was indicative of her losing the election.

When you ran as a Republican in 1996, Republicans attacked you for having voted in Democratic primaries. When you ran as a Democrat in 2014 and 2016, you were criticized for having voted in Republican primaries. Talk about your partisan evolution.

I think the criticism has been that I have been disloyal to both parties, and what I would tell you is that I grew up in the Democratic Party. I was pretty frustrated with [Democrats] in the mid-’90s, and Republicans were promising this big tent, and I thought it sounded reasonable. It didn’t turn out to be true. In the second presidential campaign under George W. Bush, they really utilized gay marriage—it was used as a wedge issue nationally in 2004, and I would say that radicalized me to the Democratic perspective. I was never going to be for a party that stood for hate and that used discrimination as a platform, as a literal political platform. So, for 13 years, I’ve been a Democrat and stayed a Democrat, and I don’t intend to ever change.

There’s more, so go read it. It’s fascinating to me because I didn’t know a lot of this stuff. Partly this is because I wasn’t paying close attention to local politics in the 90s, and partly because Ogg herself didn’t talk about any of it during either of her campaigns. Hearing her talk now about how she was affected by the gay-baiting in the 2016 campaign, mild as it was in comparison to some other examples we’ve seen, is an eye-opener. Check it out.

Anti-spousal benefits plaintiffs ask for injunction

Ridiculous.

Conservative activists are seeking an injunction blocking Houston from paying same-sex spousal benefits to its municipal employees, after Texas’ Supreme Court ruled last week that gay couples may not be entitled to them.

Attorneys filed a motion Friday in District Court in Harris County, which includes Houston.

They also want to recover public funds that America’s fourth-largest city spent on same-sex spousal benefits since November 2013, though how much such “clawbacks” would be worth is unclear.

See here for the background. I looked for a more detailed version of this story, which hit on Friday afternoon, but couldn’t find one. The Supreme Court decision, ludicrous as it was, merely reinstated the plaintiffs’ lawsuit after it had been dismissed, saying there were questions to be addressed. To argue for an injunction – with clawbacks, no less – is an enormous stretch. The animus radiating from this action is so strong it must be giving Justice Kennedy a migraine. I don’t know how this could possibly go anywhere, but then I thought this was a settled matter back when the Supreme Court initially declined to gt involved. I don’t know what to think any more.

Doctors against bathroom bills

Good.

[Last] week, the American Medical Association (AMA), the country’s largest medical organization, took several actions to solidify their defense of transgender people. This included a resolution opposing any policy or legislation — like “bathroom bills” put forth in North Carolina and Texas — that prohibits transgender people from living according to their gender identity throughout society.

During its annual meeting in Chicago [last] week, the AMA House of Delegates approved a resolution favoring “Access to Basic Human Services for Transgender Individuals.” As drafted, the resolution notes that laws that restrict which facilities transgender people can use “place undue harm on the physical and social well-being and safety of transgender individuals.” It also highlights the way that transgender minors “are at particular risk of social, mental, and physical detriment by being forced to disregard their gender identity or to publicly identify as transgender due to these policies.”

Thus, the AMA officially opposes “policies preventing transgender individuals from accessing basic human services and public facilities in line with one’s gender identity, including, but not limited to, the use of restrooms.” The resolution also calls for the creation of additional policies that “promote social equality and safe access to basic human services and public facilities for transgender individuals according to one’s gender identity.”

I’m glad to see it. This is exactly what a responsible, caring establishment organization ought to do. I would be remiss if I did not note that this is not enough. The politicians who are pushing these bills aren’t doing so because they are misinformed or misguided. They’re doing it because they see political advantage in pushing them, and because they do not care at all for the people they hurt by doing so. The proper response to politicians of this type is to vote them out of office. Which brings me to the awkward fact that the Texas Medical Association endorsed Dan Patrick in 2014. Now, the TMA is not the AMA – I googled around and searched their respective websites, and I can’t honestly say if there’s any official relationship between the two organizations. But they do broadly share the same mission, and I have no doubt that many members of the TMA are also members of the AMA, and vice versa. It may not be the AMA’s place to tell the TMA what to do, but if the AMA wants to achieve its goals as stated above, it’s going to need organizations like the TMA to be aligned with them on it, and to take the lead in the states where it is relevant. Words are good, but action is necessary.

Super Bowl economic impact was about what we expected

Not too bad.

The receipts are in, and February’s Super Bowl LI appears to have been a substantial boon for Houston — albeit with slightly less spending than expected.

Gross spending during the nine days of Super Bowl programming, minus the amount of usual tourism displaced by the event, came to $338 million, according to a consultant retained by the Host Committee. That’s a bit off the $372 million originally projected by the same firm, Pennsylvania-based Rockport Analytics.

The discrepancy occurred because the costs of goods and services were lower than expected, even though the number of out-of-town visitors was higher than anticipated, at 150,000, according to Rockport Analytics. In particular, visitors spent about half of what was expected on rental cars because of the availability of car-sharing service Uber and special Metro routes.

Host Committee Chairman Ric Campo, the CEO of apartment developer Camden Properties, said that should still be counted as a win for Houston, since it allowed more people to come to the party.

“One of the things that the Host Committee really worked hard on was affordability,” Campo said. “We didn’t want you to have to go to Discovery Green and spend $100 to feed your family.”

The total impact includes $228 million spent on wages and $39 million spent on state and local taxes. Although that number was about $6 million lower than projected, it was more than enough to pay back the state for the $25.4 million the state advanced the Host Committee, with $15 million in proceeds.

[…]

In addition to the financial impact, officials played up the the game’s halo effect for the city’s image, and the benefit of catching the interest of potential customers. Houston First President Mike Waterman said several of the 16 convention organizers he brought down to see the event have committed to bringing conventions to the city.

“We weekly get customers coming to Houston and saying they saw us shine during the Super Bowl, and now they’re interested in booking a meeting here,” Waterman said.

Let’s hope Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick don’t ruin that by forcing a bathroom bill down our throats. The one economic impact estimate I saw before the Super Bowl pegged the haul at $350 million, so it was pretty darned close. I’m glad all these people came to visit, I’m glad they had a good time (and spent some money), and given that we’re preparing a bid for the 2024 Super Bowl, I hope they’ll want to come back. Assuming our leadership doesn’t take the good impression they went away with and turn it into trash.

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

Shameful.

Rep. James Frank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

House bathroom bill will not get a committee vote

Good news.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Bathroom bills and business interests

Texas Monthly’s Dave Mann reviews the Republican schism over the bathroom bill and comes to the same conclusion as I have.

At the moment, the Legislature—and the Republican party, for that matter—has settled into an uneasy stalemate between Patrick’s right-leaning Senate and Straus’s more moderate coalition in the House. But, as they say, stalemates are made to be broken, and right now, Patrick’s faction seems likely to prevail eventually. It has the support of the most-devoted Republican primary voters, many of whom view moderation or compromise as surrender.

So business leaders and their Republican allies are in a precarious position. They still have a power base in the House, because Straus and his leadership team have fended off several challenges from the right, but he won’t be speaker forever. This session is his fifth leading the House, tying the record for longest-serving speaker with Pete Laney and Gib Lewis. Whenever he departs, Straus could well be replaced by a more conservative figure. So the talk among business Republicans in Austin’s bars and restaurants these days is about how they can reverse their losses and reclaim their party.

Well, good luck with that. The Republican grass roots aren’t going to moderate themselves, and it seems likely that business-friendly Republicans will continue to lose primaries, especially in statewide races. As long as that dynamic remains, the Republican party won’t be tilting back toward the middle anytime soon.

But there is another political party. Remember that one? It’s been stripped down and left to rust for the past two decades. But the Texas Democratic party is still there, waiting for someone to gas it up and take it for a spin.

That’s just what big-business interests should do. The TAB and any number of influential corporations could easily take over the party by recruiting and funding candidates to run as Democrats. It would be a homecoming of sorts; after all, years ago, before the state flipped to the GOP, business-friendly Republicans were conservative Democrats.

The problem with this idea is that Democrats can’t win in Texas at the moment. Sure, big business could take over the Democratic party, but what good would it do? Except the goal here isn’t to suddenly flip the state back to the Democrats. No, the goal would simply be to make Democrats somewhat more competitive, especially in statewide races. They don’t necessarily have to win, just get close enough to scare Republicans and perhaps nudge the GOP back toward moderation.

Republican primaries might turn out differently if there was the threat of a tight race in the general election—and that threat could be more credible in 2018 than it has been in years, with many pundits expecting the national mood to favor Democrats by then. Would Abbott strike a more moderate tone if he knew a well-funded pro-business Democrat was waiting for him in the 2018 general? Part of the business lobby’s problem with Patrick is that it has no way to threaten him. He’s untouchable in a Republican primary, and his general election campaigns have been cakewalks. But if, say, a conservative Democrat, backed by big-business money, opposed him in 2018, that might lead Patrick to moderate just a bit. Similarly, if the GOP once again nominated social conservatives with questionable credentials—like Attorney General Ken Paxton, currently under indictment, or Sid Miller, the agriculture commissioner famous for traveling out of state for his “Jesus shot”—for statewide offices, they’d at least have a challenging race in the fall. And just maybe the specter of a formidable Democratic opponent would lead to a more robust debate within the Republican party, rather than simply a mass rush to the right.

While I agree with Mann in the aggregate, there are several places where I disagree. For one thing, I don’t know what he means by a “conservative” Democrat, but I do know that Democratic primary voters aren’t going to be interested in that. Discussions like this often get bogged down in semantics and everyone’s personal definitions of words like “liberal” and “conservative”, but I think we can all agree that a Democratic candidate who is “conservative” (or just relatively “conservative” for a Democrat) in the social issues sense is going to be extremely controversial. It’s not like Democrats haven’t tried the approach of soft-pedaling such items in recent elections – see, for example, Wendy Davis’ muteness on abortion and her flipflop on open carry in 2014 – it’s just that there’s little to no evidence that it has helped them any. Maybe nothing could have helped them in those elections, but in the Trump era where everyone is fired up with the spirit of resistance, it’s really hard to see how this approach would do anything but piss people off.

I also dispute the assertion that the threat of a close race will make Republicans more likely to choose the less-extreme, more “electable” candidate in their primaries. For Exhibit A, see Kay Bailey Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary. Surely Bill White was a credible threat to them that year, but Rick Perry’s successful strategy was the exact opposite of striking a more “moderate” tone. The only thing that might convince Republican primary voters to try something different will be sustained electoral failure. To say the least, we are not there yet.

What I would recommend for Democrats like Mike Collier and Beto O’Rourke and whoever might emerge to challenge Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton is to approach the business community by reminding them that we already broadly agree on a number of core matters – quality public and higher education, better infrastructure, sanity on immigration, non-discrimination – and where we may disagree on things like taxes and regulations, the Lege will still be Republican. What you get with, say, a Democratic Lt. Governor is a hedge against self-inflicted stupidity of the SB6 and “sanctuary cities” variety. You will get someone who will listen to reason and who will be persuaded by evidence. From the business community’s perspective, this is a better deal than what they have now, and a better deal than any they’re likely to get in the near future. For there to be a chance for that to happen, it will take Democratic candidates that a fired-up base can and will support, plus the willingness of the business community to recognize the hand they’ve been dealt. The ball is in their court.

LGBT anti-discrimination bills voted out of House committee

One bit of good news this week.

In an unprecedented vote, a House committee on Wednesday approved two bills to prohibit housing and employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.

Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba split with his party and provided the tie-breaking vote for both bills, which passed the House Committee on Business and Industry by one vote. Democrats have pushed both measures for years without success.

While the two bills still have very far to go before they could become law, Villalba said it was time Republicans begin to agree on the need to extend greater rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans.

“It was time for people from all across the political spectrum to acknowledge that LGBT citizens from the great state of Texas are Texans,” Villalba told The Dallas Morning News after the vote. “Will other Republicans follow my lead? I doubt it, but the time has come.”

House Bill 225 by Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, would prohibit businesses from discriminating against employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. House Bill 192, by San Antonio Democrat Diego Bernal, would make it illegal to refuse to sell or rent to someone because of these same

Johnson, who has authored the employment measure for at least two legislative sessions, said this is the most progress his bill has ever made.

This is as far as these bills will go, but just getting them approved by a committee is a big deal, as it had never been done before. To me, the best part of this story is what persuaded Rep. Villalba to say Yes.

The final straw, said Villalba, was “that email that I got.”

The weekend before the vote on Johnson’s bill, Hotze sent a text en masse to House Republicans urging them to support Senate Bill 6 — the “bathroom bill” that would bar transgender people from using the restroom that matches their gender identity — or else the face political retribution of being placed on a list of Republicans who oppose the measure.

The texts were personalized. “Dear Jason,” his began, “Greetings! Do you support SB 6?”

What came next was a link to a blog Hotze wrote on April 27 that called LGBT people perverted and accused Republicans who oppose the bathroom bill of being “willing to sell out the safety of their mothers, wives, daughters and granddaughters to protect their financial interests.”

“No one should be considered a minority deserving of preferential treatment, because of their chosen sexual perversion, their so-called ‘gender identity’ or the types of sexual acts in which they engage. These are all chosen behaviors,” Hotze wrote. “Take this thought process to its natural progression; what would prevent some activist judge from ruling that those who practice prostitution, transvestitism, pedophilia or bestiality are part of this class deserving of special protection because of their sexual orientation?”

The text continued, “If you do not respond, then you will be considered a ‘No’ on SB 6. …Please respond today.”

“I saw that, and I’m like, ‘That’s enough,’ ” Villalba said. “I cannot stand on the sidelines when people who claim to share my political philosophy are so hateful.

“I don’t want to live that example. I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. Believe me, he will be. In 20 years we’ll look back on these days and we’ll be astounded that there was ever a time in our country where people would discriminate against others merely because of their sexual preference.

Yes to all of that. Nothing could be sweeter than shoving Steve Hotze’s own words right down his throat. Kudos to Rep. Villalba for seeing the light, and to Rep. Johnson for pushing him to seek it out.

Faith leaders against discrimination

More of this, please.

Prayer is a staple of the Texas Capitol, where lawmakers begin each legislative day with an invocation and bowed heads.

But on Wednesday, about 50 faith leaders of various denominations lined the stairs outside the Texas House in protest. Their prayer was silent, but their message was clear: don’t legislate against LGBT Texans in our name.

Singing hymns and holding placards that read “My faith does not discriminate,” the group planned to deliver to lawmakers’ offices a letter signed by more than 200 faith leaders in Texas who oppose various proposals they see as discriminatory against LGBT people. Among those measures are two proposals that would regulate bathroom access for transgender Texans — Senate Bill 6 and House Bill 2899 — that are priority for some Republicans but haven’t progressed in the waning weeks of the legislative session.

“Often the voices of people from faith communities that are heard are voices of judgment and condemnation,”said Rev. Karen Thompson of the Metropolitan Community Church of Austin, whose congregation is mostly made up by LGBT members. “We’re here to say that there is another voice of the faith community that is welcome and encouraged.”

The letter is here, and I applaud those who cared enough to sign it. I mean, I seriously doubt Dan Patrick cares because his debased and degraded version of “faith” bears no resemblance to anything I’d recognize as such, but it’s important to counter the narrative that “Christians” and “pastors” are all on his side. And, you know, this is the objectively correct moral stance to take. I don’t know why “love thy neighbor as thyself” is controversial in this day and age, but there you have it. Note that midnight Monday (i.e., overnight from Sunday) is the deadline for bills to be voted out of committee or die, so this is it for HB2899 and SB6 in the House, modulo the usual amendment shenanigans that we see every biennium. Keep that clock going, y’all.

Attorney’s fees awarded to same sex marriage plaintiffs

Justice.

Texas is on the hook for more than $600,000 in fees associated with its unsuccessful fight to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Affirming a lower court ruling on the fees, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week shot down Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s challenge to the award amount granted to two same-sex couples who had sued the state.

A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit ruled that the district court “acted well within its broad discretion” in awarding those legal fees.

The fees stem from a lawsuit filed years ago by Cleopatra DeLeon and her wife, Nicole Dimetman, and Mark Phariss and his husband, Victor Holmes, who challenged the constitutionality of the state’s now-defunct same-sex marriage ban.

The couples were successful at the district court level, where a San Antonio federal judge ruled the state’s ban was unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.”

Anticipating an appeal, that ruling was stayed and the the ban was left in place. The lawsuit eventually made its way to the 5th Circuit, where a three-judge panel in early 2015 signaled significant doubt about the constitutionality of Texas’ ban.

Note that the Fifth Circuit never actually lifted the stay that was put in place when the original district court ruling was made in favor of DeLeon-Dimetman and Phariss-Holmes. The plaintiffs asked for the stay to be lifted in February of 2015, but no ruling was made before the Obergefell decision was handed down by SCOTUS, and the state of Texas rendered any further action moot by asking the Fifth Circuit to affirm the lower court ruling thereafter. It’s been more than three years since the lower court ruling, and nearly two years since Obergefell. You can’t rush these things, obviously. As the DMN notes, the money will go to the law firm that represented the plaintiffs, and they have pledged to use those funds for further pro bono cases. So at least one good thing happened yesterday while we were all subjected to more bathroom bullshit from the Legislature.

Greg Abbott wants to kill off cities

That’s the only way to describe it.

As state lawmakers gather for their biennial session this spring, they’re weighing whether to rein in localities that ban plastic grocery bags, extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ residents, discourage cooperation with federal immigration authorities, impose driver screening requirements for ride-sharing companies and regulate the chopping down of trees.

Those types of clashes, particularly between liberal cities and conservative states, are increasingly common throughout the country, in part because Republicans have a historically high level of control over state governments.

But in Texas, Abbott now suggests that instead of spending time and money battling these issues individually, the state should issue a “ban across the board” on municipal regulations.

“One strategy would be for the state of Texas to take a ‘rifle shot after rifle shot after rifle shot’ approach to try to override all these local regulations,” Abbott explained to the conservative audience last month. “I think it would be far simpler, and frankly easier for those of you who have to run your lives and your businesses on a daily basis, if the state of Texas adopted an overriding policy to create certain standards that must be met.”

The governor has not laid out many more details on how that approach would work, and his press office referred back to his remarks.

But one possibility, says Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, is that the state could strip all 352 home-rule cities, which are free to enact regulations as long as they don’t expressly conflict with state law, of their home-rule powers. They would then be treated as general-rule cities, which are usually small and can regulate only areas the state specifically gives them permission to oversee.

[…]

Sandlin, from the municipal league, has naturally been an outspoken opponent of Abbott’s attacks on municipalities. He says this hostility toward cities and local control didn’t exist at the Texas Capitol before Abbott became governor.

“It’s only been since 2015 that we’ve seen this new tactic, where local control is no longer a good thing, it’s actually an evil thing,” says Sandlin. “The new good thing is now liberty from local regulations.”

I see Abbott’s antipathy towards cities as being of a piece with his antipathy towards the federal government, or a least towards the federal government when a Democrat is President. Basically, he doesn’t tolerate disagreement, and doesn’t recognize the authority of elected officials who do stuff he doesn’t like. It’s not a matter of philosophy or principle, in that he’ll have no problem with any heavyhanded federal actions as long as it’s in the service of policy he supports. Like eminent domain for a border wall, for example. Greg Abbott is about power – his power – and if cities are standing in his way, he’ll seek to crush them. I don’t believe there’s anything more to it than that.

The first step is admitting you have a problem

Rewire points out an issue that should have been obvious.

Earlier this month, about 70 Texas businesses signed a letter condemning a discriminatory bill now circulating in the state legislature that would largely bar transgender people from using public restrooms or changing facilities that match their gender identity.

“We believe everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, and we are proud of our companies’ track records on creating diverse workforces and inclusive work environments,” reads the March 1 letter against SB 6, which passed the state senate on March 15 and is currently in the house. “We stand together to oppose legislation that would legalize discrimination against any group that would undermine our ability to ‘Keep Texas Open for Business.’”

Despite their public stance against this anti-trans legislation, however, representatives of some of these same companies—including Dow Chemical, Hewlett Packard, and United Continental—have given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last two decades to the campaigns of the very lawmakers pushing the bill.

The political action committees of three law firms, one trade association, and eight other companies that signed the letter have given a total of nearly $185,000 to the campaigns of 15 of the 18 Republican state senators who sponsored SB 6. From 1998 through 2016, companies have filled the coffers of these conservative Republicans’ campaigns, helping to seat them at the legislature and make SB 6 possible.

Meanwhile, PACs of six of those companies and an additional law firm that opposes SB 6 combined to donate over $50,000 since 2006 to the recurring campaigns of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, one of SB 6’s biggest proponents. Some also gave large donations to the state Republican Party and to outside political groups that funneled money into Texas politics, aiding the bill’s sponsors.

[…]

Rewire reached out to 12 companies and the SMART union to ask if they were aware that their donations had helped elect SB 6 sponsors and if their donation policies would change in light of the bill. An American Airlines spokesperson affirmed the company’s dedication to equal rights for its LGBTQ customers and employees, but said it doesn’t comment on specific contributions made by its PAC.

A Dow spokesperson wrote that the company “seeks to work with political leaders at all levels” to aid its competitiveness, and it welcomes “open and respectful dialogue and exchange of views” with politicians it doesn’t agree with to “achieve meaningful results.”

The Texas Association of Business, the main business trade association in the state that represents companies and many local chambers of commerce, did say that SB 6 will affect future donation decisions. Communications Director Robert Wood wrote in an email to Rewire that while these decisions by the PAC’s board are never based on one piece of legislation, “SB 6 will be factored into future endorsements and contributions.” Without giving specifics, Wood said, “Unsolicited, many of our members have shared they will have to make tough business decisions if SB 6 passes.” Earlier, he wrote, “If companies leave the state entirely or focus on making future choices elsewhere, [these] are tough decisions many companies are facing.”

Honestly, I’m a little surprised this article hadn’t been written before, since it’s about as standard an issue in any legislative controversy as there is. It should be noted that the amounts in question are actually pretty small, especially given that Rewire totaled everything up going back to 1998, which will cover the entire political career of just about everyone listed. Jane Nelson and Dan Patrick are over $50K, Craig Estes over $20K, and most of the rest are under $10K. Which may sound like a lot, but 1) this is for multiple cycles for most of them, and 2) these people tend to have campaign treasuries in excess of $1 million. It’s a small part of their resources, and these companies are far from the biggest donors.

All that said, there’s a big principle involved. Most companies would surely have echoed Dow’s rationale if they had commented, and there is something to that. The point I’ve been making all along is that there are plenty of politicians out there who will be at least cordial to them while not acting against their interests on a big issue like this. I’ve criticized the TAB many times for continuing to support legislators who have regularly opposed them on matters like immigration, so kudos to them for recognizing the need to do something different. It’s a simple enough thing to do. I’d suggest that if you work for one of the companies mentioned, you might consider raising the matter to your management. Companies don’t like it when their own employees point out when they violate their stated beliefs and values. There’s more than one way to work within the system to bring about change.

North Carolina “repeals” HB2

It’s “repeal” in a mostly meaningless sense.

Late Wednesday night, for the second day in a row, North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate leader Phil Berger (R) held a press conference announcing that they’d established yet another “compromise” to repeal HB2 with Gov. Roy Cooper (D). They are planning to force it through the legislature on Thursday. The “compromise” is not a clean repeal of the anti-transgender law, HB2. It would maintain much of the discriminatory aspects of the law its replacing.

The reason Republican lawmakers are rushing is that the NCAA reportedly set Thursday as a deadline for the state to repeal HB2 or risk losing the opportunity to host any championship games through 2022. This means that Thursday’s “compromise” effort is specifically geared toward making money off all those games, but if the NCAA’s concern was removing discrimination from the law, this effort doesn’t meet the standard.

Thursday’s “compromise” bill actually maintains many aspects of HB2. The law prohibited municipalities from establishing LGBT protections at the local level and mandated that in all public facilities, transgender people could only use facilities that match the sex on their birth certificate. The proposed “compromise” repeals HB2, but then immediately reinstates much of it:

  • Only the state legislature would be able to pass any legislation related to the use of multiple-occupancy bathrooms. Thus, no city or public school could assure trans people that they can use facilities that actually match their gender identity.
  • Municipalities would still be banned from passing any LGBT nondiscrimination protections until December 1, 2020.

Cooper agreed to the plan without consulting any LGBT groups. Cooper said he supports the “compromise,” explaining, “It’s not a perfect deal, but it repeals House Bill 2 and begins to repair our reputation.”

LGBT group’s anger over the “compromise” has been directed as much at the Democratic governor who promised to repeal HB2 as the Republicans trying to hold onto it.

Businesses are opposing the “repeal” bill as well, since for all intents and purposes it isn’t really repealing anything. Naturally, the Republicans who are pushing SB6 think this is great.

“North Carolina appears to be replacing their original law with a new measure that is similar to our state’s SB 6, the Texas Privacy Act,” Republican state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, the author of the Texas proposal, said in a statement. She added it’s “no surprise the Texas Privacy Act is seen as a thoughtful solution to protect everyone equally while allowing businesses to set their own policy.”

[…]

The Texas proposal includes some of the original restrictions that North Carolina is now repealing. Kolkhorst’s Senate Bill 6 would limit bathroom use in government buildings on the basis of “biological sex” rather than gender identity and would nix local anti-discrimination laws meant to allow transgender residents to use public bathrooms based on gender identity.

[…]

Meanwhile, tourism officials from big Texas cities have warned that the proposal could cost them hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue. Almost a week after Houston hosted Super Bowl LI, the NFL raised the prospect that SB 6 could impact future championship football games in Texas. And in a statement regarding Texas’ proposal, the NBA has indicated it considers “a wide range of factors when making decisions about host locations for league-wide events like the All-Star Game; foremost among them is ensuring an environment where those who participate and attend are treated fairly and equally.”

Pointing to the North Carolina vote, representatives for the Texas business community on Thursday indicated it should serve as another warning sign for Texas lawmakers.

“The turmoil of the past year, coupled with today’s action by North Carolina lawmakers, should send a loud and clear message to our own Texas Legislature: reject Senate Bill 6, a discriminatory and unnecessary bill that does nothing to address safety,” Texas Association of Business president Chris Wallace said in a statement.

The right answer is to not pass discriminatory legislation in the first place. And if someone else passes discriminatory legislation, don’t screw around with compromises. Repeal away. The Current and the DMN have more.

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.

Athletes against SB6

From Athlete Ally:

Dear Texas,

The love of sport is in part what makes Texas great. The passion and competitive spirit that reverberates throughout the Texas athletic community is hard to match across the United States. It’s that passion – and the storied history of Texas athletics – that often makes the state a go-to destination for major sporting events and why we love to compete in the Lone Star state.

As members of the athletic community, we’re committed to upholding the very values that sport instills in each of us. Values like fair play, equality, inclusion and respect. We believe that everyone should be afforded the same access, opportunity and experience both in sport and under the law. This is why we’re joining together to speak out against Senate Bill 6 (SB6), and the dozen more anti-LGBT bills already filed, and the harm they would do to the state of Texas, to the transgender community, and to the sports we have come to know and love.

SB6 would require transgender people to use bathrooms based on “biological sex,” and would preempt local nondiscrimination ordinances that allow transgender Texans and visitors to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Other bills filed would prevent same-sex couples from getting married, allow campus groups to reject LGBT members, nullify local non-discrimination protections, allow healthcare professionals and educators to discriminate against LGBT people, and more.

As long as bills like these remain a possibility, Texas is sending a clear signal that LGBT players, fans, coaches and administrators are not welcomed or respected, both on and off the field. This should worry Texas, as the athletic community has clearly stood by its LGBT constituents and against discriminatory legislation. We have seen this story unfold in North Carolina, and we do not want it to be repeated in Texas.

Over the next year, Texas is slated to host the NCAA Women’s Basketball Final Four, the World Golf Championships, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four, and many more. A recent economic impact study showed that the local San Antonio economy will receive a boost of $135 million in direct spending as a result of hosting the Men’s Basketball Final Four. Additionally, the study predicts an influx of 71,000 out-of-town visitors to the San Antonio area, resulting in a rise in spending at local businesses such as restaurants, hotels, retail stores and entertainment venues. Texas will likely not have the honor of hosting such prestigious events should bills like SB6 become law. This would be a shame for the state of Texas, but it can be avoided.

Texas can choose to uphold the values of sport by rejecting SB6 and other anti-LGBT bills, and the negative impact they would have. These bills are answers in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. SB6 isolates, excludes, and others the transgender community and exacerbates many of the issues transgender Texans already face. The only solution that embodies the spirit of sport is to expand equality by embracing diversity. That diversity is inclusive of the LGBT community and is why we hope you will do the right thing and reject these discriminatory bills.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Members of the Athletic Community

There are some 55 signatories, and if I have one complaint about this otherwise fine letter it’s that the large majority of them are not from Texas. Former Baylor star Brittney Griner is the most notable Texan, and I am delighted beyond words to see five people from my alma mater on there – three coaches, one administrator, and one current student. I wish there had been more, but let’s view this as a starting point and go from there. Link via ThinkProgress.

Of more immediate interest is this:

A top Republican in the Texas House has confirmed he will hold a public debate on the so-called bathroom bill, but he said he doesn’t see any reason for it to become law.

“In all the years I’ve been on [the House Committee on] State Affairs, we’ve never seen an issue that would indicate there’s a need to address a bathroom bill,” Byron Cook, the Corsicana Republican who chairs the committee that will next take up the measure, told The Dallas Morning News on Thursday. “There’s no evidence of a problem.”

[…]

The bathroom bill has become one of the chief areas of disagreement this year between the House and Senate. Both chambers are dominated by Republicans, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick made the measure one of his top priorities, just as [House Speaker Joe] Straus said it wasn’t one of his. The House speaker said it’s more crucial that lawmakers grapple with how to fund public schools and an ailing child welfare system in a tight budget year.

“Clearly, I’m not a fan of the bill that they’re discussing in the Senate,” Straus said last week when a Senate committee debated the bill.”They have their agenda; we have ours.”

Hard to know for sure what that means in practice. As the story notes, we don’t know when – or even if – Rep. Cook will schedule this for a committee hearing and possible vote. That’s what you need to keep your eye on, and it wouldn’t hurt to reach out to the State Affairs Committee members and tell them what you think about SB6.

Supreme Court hears ridiculous same-sex marriage appeal

Was this trip really necessary?

Same-sex couples are entitled to the same treatment as opposite-sex couples, a lawyer for the city of Houston argued before the Texas Supreme Court on Wednesday in a case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples.

As part of Texas Republicans’ ongoing fight against same-sex marriage, justices of the state’s highest civil court heard arguments in a case centered on whether Houston and other governmental entities are required by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges to extend taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-spouses of government employees.

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that bans on marriages between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional and that states must recognize same-sex marriage as legal. Following that ruling, public employers in the state quickly extended benefits for same-sex spouses of public employees.

Arguing that interpretation is too broad, opponents of same-sex marriage have taken up a challenge against Houston’s policy, hoping the Texas court will issue an opinion that narrows the scope of the ruling because they believe marriage benefits are not a fundamental right.

But Douglas Alexander, the lawyer that defended Houston’s benefits policy, told the court on Wednesday that arguments against benefits to same-sex couples are moot under Obergefell’s guarantee that all marriages be equally regarded.

“What we’re saying is that if you extend spousal benefits to opposite sex couples then under Obergefell you also have to extend it to same sex,” Alexander told the court. “Not because there’s a fundamental right to employment benefits or spousal benefits but because there’s a fundamental right that both of those marriages be treated equally.”

See here for the background. I’m not an attorney, but Martin Siegel is. I’m going to hand the microphone to him for a minute:

The Republican officials’ argument depends on minimizing Justice Anthony Kennedy’s landmark opinion in Obergefell, but that opinion rules out their position. The opinion cites the many privileges afforded married couples – favorable tax treatment, property and inheritance rights, hospital access, health insurance, and so on – and expressly condemns the “material burden” that occurs when same-sex couples “are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage.” In fact, one of the specific state laws struck down by the decision concerned one of these benefits: a Michigan law that prevented plaintiffs April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse from adopting and raising special-needs children as married parents in the same family, rather than as separate individuals with no legal relationship.

As any lawyer knows, the opinions of the Supreme Court and the language the justices use in them matter greatly. Day in and day out, lower courts and lawyers apply both to new disputes that, while different factually, are nonetheless covered by the text and clear meaning of earlier opinions. The claim that Obergefell doesn’t resolve whether marriage-related benefits must be provided equally would puzzle any second-year law student.

A second argument advanced specifically by Republican state senators and representatives is that, because the Constitution doesn’t require local governments to give employment benefits to anyone, straight or gay, Texas can give them to one but not the other. Otherwise, Texas would be “subsidizing” gay marriage.

This willfully misses the point. It’s not that gay employees have a constitutional right to employment benefits or subsidies; it’s that they have a constitutional right to equal treatment. Public education is analogous. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require states to provide public education, but if a state chooses to do so, it can’t segregate students by race. In Obergefell, the Court specifically applied the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause to strike down laws outlawing gay marriage because, under those laws, “same-sex couples (were) denied all the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples.”

Education provides a useful comparison, too, because the Republican officials’ miserly approach to Obergefell recalls southern resistance to Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s and ’60s. Through creative evasions and court battles, officials fought for years to preserve Jim Crow despite the Supreme Court’s mandate to integrate with “all deliberate speed.” In some places, they closed schools and other public accommodations rather than open them to everyone – just as the Republican legislators now justify denying employment benefits to gay spouses by suggesting they could constitutionally deny them to everyone.

Mark Joseph Stern, who is apparently on a tour of Texas this week, thinks the Supreme Court will ultimately dismiss this on procedural grounds. Whatever happens here, the plaintiffs in this case and their Republican enablers are on the losing side of the argument. There is no justification for what they are trying to do. The Supreme Court should have stood by their original decision to not hear this case, but failing that the least they can do is follow the law and give these plaintiffs the stinging defeat they so richly deserve. Texas Monthly has more.

State Supreme Court hears same sex marriage appeal today

Gird your loins.

Almost two years after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, Texas Republicans are still fighting the ruling — and they’re getting another day in court.

The Texas Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday in a Houston case challenging the city’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. Though such policies have been in place since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2015 ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, Texas conservatives are betting the Houston case opens up a path to relitigate the high court’s decision.

“This particular opinion will go to the U.S. Supreme Court and is a potential vehicle for overturning Obergefell given the changing composition of the court,” said Jared Woodfill, one of the lawyers leading the lawsuit filed against Houston on behalf of two taxpayers, and a prominent conservative activist in the city. “Ultimately, I would like to see Obergefell overturned.”

At the center of the Houston case is whether Obergefell, which legalized same-sex marriage across the country, requires the city and other governmental agencies to extend taxpayer-subsidized benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees.

In Obergefell, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that bans on marriages between couples of the same sex are unconstitutional and that states must recognize same-sex marriage as legal. Following that ruling, public employers in the state quickly extended benefits for same-sex spouses of public employees.

But opponents argue that interpretation was far too broad.

Obergefell may require states to license and recognize same-sex marriages, but that does not require states to give taxpayer subsidies to same-sex couples — any more than Roe v. Wade requires states to subsidize abortions or abortion providers,” lawyers challenging the Houston policy wrote in a filing with the Texas Supreme Court.

They argue that the right to marry does not “entail any particular package of tax benefits, employee fringe benefits or testimonial privileges.” (In a separate case against the state’s now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, the Texas Attorney General’s office actually argued that marriage is a right that comes with benefits the state is entitled to control.)

[…]

For observers, the court’s reversal was an unusual move. And it’s difficult to ignore the politics involved, considering that the legal issues in the Houston case seem to be “tap dancing around what is already a fairly established right,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor and Texas Constitution expert at the University of Houston.

“There has been an emerging litmus test for state judges that wasn’t necessarily so apparent 20 years ago,” Rottinghaus said. “Republicans have party control of the court but not necessarily ideological control, and I think these kinds of cases are those that can be used in the future to be a bulwark for conservative activists looking to change even a Republican court to a more conservative direction.”

See here and here for the background, and here for an amicus brief filed on behalf of Equality Texas and a married couple who would be negatively affected by a ruling for the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court is gonna do what the Supreme Court is gonna do, and I’m not in a position to analyze the legal minutiae. What I will emphasize is that not only does this lawsuit go against any common sense idea of fairness – if you’re married, you’re married, and you have the same rights and responsibilities as anyone else who is married; I do know that the underpinning of the Obergefell ruling was a rejection of this argument that same-sex couples are somehow “less than” opposite sex couples – but it’s well against the mainstream of public opinion. Even before Obergefell was handed down, a plurality of Texans supported same sex marriage. I can’t find any more recent results, mostly because it’s not even worth polling on these days. Corporate America has been providing benefits to same-sex couples for years now. This is a settled matter for everyone except pea-brained individuals like Jared Woodfill. I can only hope the Supreme Court is better than this.

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.

The NBA is keeping an eye on SB6, too

I’d be shocked if they weren’t.

While lauding the work of New Orleans to take on the NBA All-Star game after the league pulled its events from Charlotte because of House Bill 2, which limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people in the state, NBA commissioner Adam Silver did not sound eager to take those steps again.

Silver said the NBA will closely monitor similar legislation pending in Texas and other states when considering bids to host future All-Star weekends and its many related events.

The Rockets have prepared bids to host either the 2020 or 2021 All-Star weekend, a person with knowledge of the process said on the condition of anonymity because the effort had not been announced publicly.

“In terms of laws in other jurisdictions, it’s something we continue to monitor very closely,” Silver said. “You know, I’m not ready to draw bright lines. Clearly, though, the laws of the state, ordinances, and cities are a factor we look at in deciding where to play our All-Star Games.”

[…]

“We’d have to look at the specific legislation and understand its impact,” Silver said. “I mean, I’m not ready to stand here today and say that that is the bright line test for whether or not we will play All-Star Games in Texas. It’s something we’re, of course, going to monitor very closely.

What we’ve stated is that our values, our league-wide values in terms of equality and inclusion are paramount to this league and all the members of the NBA family, and I think those jurisdictions that are considering legislation similar to HB2 are on notice that that is an important factor for us. Those values are an important factor for us in deciding where we take a special event like an All-Star Game.”

Greg Abbott is gonna be so mad about this, you guys. And from the league Commissioner, not some “low level adviser”, too. The NBA has already moved an All Star Game out of North Carolina, so they have a track record of action. Sure, the NBA All Star Game isn’t as big a deal as the Super Bowl, but there are three NBA cities in Texas, and there have been three All Star Games played in Texas since 2006, with Houston aiming for another one soon. Why would we want to mess that up?

Also, too, there’s this:

In addition to the NBA and NFL, the Big 12 has said it’s keeping an eye on the bill’s progress. The NCAA has deferred comment even as it threatens to move several championship games from North Carolina over the state’s bathroom law. San Antonio is set to host the Men’s Final Four in 2018. Dallas is hosting the women’s championship this spring, but the bill won’t be passed before the event.

The NCAA we know about, but recall that the Atlantic Coast Conference also moved several conference championship games elsewhere. Texas is home to schools in the Big XII – which will be having a football championship game again; wouldn’t it be a kick in the pants if they decide to have it in, say, Oklahoma City instead of Dallas? – the American Athletic Conference, Conference USA, the Southland Conference, and more. Lots of conferences, lots of sports, lots of tournaments and championship games potentially not being held in Texas. And for what?

Abbott shakes fist at NFL

Seriously?

Gov. Greg Abbott is blasting the NFL for raising the prospect that Texas’ so-called “bathroom bill” could impact future events in the state — wading into a debate he has so far mostly steered clear of.

“The NFL is walking on thin ice right here,” Abbott told conservative radio host Glenn Beck on Tuesday. “The NFL needs to concentrate on playing football and get the heck out of politics.”

[…]

“For some low-level NFL adviser to come out and say that they are going to micromanage and try to dictate to the state of Texas what types of policies we’re going to pass in our state, that’s unacceptable,” Abbott told Beck. “We don’t care what the NFL thinks and certainly what their political policies are because they are not a political arm of the state of Texas or the United States of America. They need to learn their place in the United States, which is to govern football, not politics.”

[…]

In the Beck interview, Abbott also railed against NFL players who protested racial oppression last year by sitting or kneeling during the National Anthem. The protests began with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“I cannot name or even count the number of Texans who told me that they were not watching the NFL,” Abbott said. “They were protesting the NFL this year because of the gross political statement allowed to be made by the NFL by allowing these players, who are not oppressed, who are now almost like snowflake little politicians themselves unable to take the United States National Anthem being played.”

See here for the background. The “low-level NFL adviser” in question is Brian McCarthy, whose LinkedIn profile says he is the “Vice President of Communications at National Football League”. So, clearly some schmo who doesn’t know his rear end from a post pattern. The rest of the story, and the Abbott tweet that preceded it, is roughly what you’d expect from some dude calling into the Glenn Beck show. I gather Abbott would not approve of that “rap music” the players listen to either, or those baggy jeans the kids are wearing these days. Does he not have anything better to do with his time?

One more thing: Awhile ago I wrote that the fight over SB6 between Dan Patrick and the business lobby feels different than previous fights, because of the level of invective and dismissiveness coming from Patrick. I thought about that as I read this story, and it struck me that it suggests to me that Patrick and now Abbott feel threatened in a way that they have not felt before, and in a way that people who hold close to absolute power for their realm should not feel. Why wouldn’t Abbott, if he must respond to what the NFL had to say about a possible future Super Bowl that would likely be at least five if not ten years out in the future, simply say that he’s sure the NFL will come to understand the state’s position once they’ve had a chance to talk it over, or something like that? The bluster, based on a hypothetical that is contingent on a bill that hasn’t had a committee hearing and may not have the votes to pass, plus the gratuitous insults, is astonishing, and not at all what one would expect from a powerful politician who is confident in his position. I get the sense that maybe, just maybe, these guys sense that – partisan composition of the state’s government aside – they’re not in the majority, or even the mainstream, of some things that they used to be, and they just don’t understand why. I don’t know what that means in practical terms, but it sure is fascinating to watch.

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.