Will State Rep. Bell’s Bill to Super-Ban Gay Marriage Rise from the Dead?
Marriage equality advocates are cautiously celebrating a victory today, after the last of some 20 proposed bills with a noticeable anti-LGBT bent failed to make it out of the House last night. House Democrats chubbed (a parliamentary process allowing them to try and stall other bills from being heard) HB 4105 to the point of self-parody on Thursday right up until the midnight deadline, preventing the bill from a moving toward final passage. Perhaps the most nationally noticed of this session’s proposed anti-LGBT legislation, HB 4105 would have prevented state or local funds being used to support any issuance or recognition of same-sex marriage licenses, presumably a workaround in the event that the Supreme Court overturns state bans on same-sex marriage later this summer.
Yet, that doesn’t mean the legislation has died for good. State Representative Cecil Bell of Magnolia, the good ol’ boy author of HB 4105, told the Houston Chronicle late last night that he would attempt to turn the language into an amendment for some other, more promising bill that could still be heard by the Senate. Two things may stand in the way of that plan: One, such a maneuver could only be successful if the proposed amendment actually relates to the bill, and such a bill may be hard to find; secondly, some Lege watchers speculate that many state Republicans may not actually want the bill to pass. Christopher Hooks, who covers the Lege for the Texas Observer, tweeted “Dems will celebrate their victory over #HB4105, but big credit goes to House GOPers. If they wanted it passed, it would have been.” Governor Greg Abbott has not indicated whether he would support the passage of such a bill or would veto it.
Despite a majority of House republicans signing on to HB 4105, when push comes to shove, legislators may not want to run the risk of alienating big business opportunities. In recent months, national controversy has swirled around other state attempts to limit the rights and protections of LGBT individuals, notably in Indiana, Arizona, and Alabama. In some cases, major corporations have come out in support of LGBT equality, to the point of threatening to withdraw their business from states that enact what they view as discriminatory laws. In Arizona, the pressure was so strong Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBT customers and employees. Indiana’s governor backpedaled to say he would work to “clarify” a similar bill passed in his state.
Legislation similar to those in Indiana and Arizona proposed earlier in the Texas legislative session generated swift opposition from, of all places, the “very conservative” Texas Association of Business. Many of those bills have thus far failed to make it out of committee. Earlier in the week, when it looked as though HB 4105 was headed toward passage in the House, advocacy groups like Equality Texas rounded up statements of bill opposition from state-based corporations like Dell, American Airlines, BP America, Celanese and GSD&M. And that hardly touches on sectors generally friendly to LGBT rights like the entertainment and technology industries, both of which have major presences in Texas and could be called upon for further advocacy support.
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Then again, this is Texas we’re talking about, and by framing the gay marriage debate as a state rights issue (just like slavery!), Bell and his supporters might yet find a broader consensus to take up the fight. Until the session, and any potential special session, wraps up, LGBT rights advocates in Texas will remain on pins and needles. Equality Texas Executive Director Chuck Smith highlighted this anxiety, saying shortly after HB 4105 died, “There are still 17 days remaining in the legislative session—17 days during which homophobic and transphobic lawmakers will continue to look for amendment opportunities to inflict discrimination." In a statement issued yesterday, Texas Freedom Network’s Kathy Miller echoed that sentiment, writing, “This was just one bill among many in a broad strategy to lock in discrimination against gay and transgender Texans and subvert a Supreme Court ruling on the freedom to marry… Bad actors will continue to push their discrimination legislation, including as amendments to other bills, until the final gavel. So we’re not letting our guard down now.”
Even while writing this article, that apprehension appeared more and more warranted. One previously tabled bill codifying child welfare providers’ freedom to base service decisions on their religious beliefs—like that gay people are evil sinners and therefore unfit to adopt—will likely be proposed as an amendment to SB 206. And on Friday morning, 93 members of the House of Representatives signed and released a letter “solemnly proclaim[ing] that the institution of marriage is clearly established in Article 1 Section 32 of the Texas Constitution as a union consisting of one man and one woman.”
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