Big Business May Help Defeat Anti-LGBT Bills This Session

Pocketbook issues -- and the chance to bring the Final Four or the Super Bowl to Houston -- may actually drive a stake in the heart of anti-gay legislation this session.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, has identified 20 bills this session, including two constitutional amendments, that propose denying services to gays and lesbians or the U.S. Supreme Court's right to approve same-sex marriage. In states around the country, similar bills have been filed and either vetoed or changed once moneyed interests threatened to pull major events and business opportunities.

In a state like Texas, where lawmakers have crowned business growth as king, that's a heavy blow. And it means Equality Texas is not just standing with the American Civil Liberties Union and the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network. It also has added the Texas Association of Business, for the first time, to the list of allies.

"We're not just dealing with refusal of service but with discrimination in employment, in housing, in government services," Ellis said this morning. "I voted for the Freedom Restoration Act, as did every member of the Texas Senate at the time. After more than 15 years, it's worked very well to protect religious freedom, with carefully crafted provisions."

In other words, don't fix what is not broken. Rebecca Robertson of the ACLU said existing law has already served the rights of all religious faiths well.

Religion cannot be used as a weapon to ignore laws that everyone else has to obey in Texas, Ellis said. Other lawmakers that joined Ellis this morning included Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas. Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business also joined the group.

Over the past decade, the only significant anti-LGBT bill to pass into law was Proposition 2, which added language to the state constitution that marriage was between one man and one woman. In intervening years, groups like Equality Texas and its allies have stopped other measures that sought to limit the rights of the LGBT community. Chuck Smith of Equality Texas is not eager to see that record broken.

Hammond said Texas would do well to heed the problems created in Indiana, which faced heavy backlash from sports associations and major corporations in the wake of passing a so-called religious freedom law that gave business owners the right to discriminate against gay and lesbians based on religious beliefs.

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Kimberly Reeves
Contact: Kimberly Reeves