April 12, 2005
Isn't it illegal enough already?

Remember last year when the Lege passed the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act", which outlawed gay marriage? Apparently, that wasn't enough to hold back the big gay menace.

A proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage was passed Monday by a House committee that rejected a broader proposal that could have banned civil unions.

Although Texas has an existing law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, locking that definition into the state constitution would make it more difficult for a future Legislature to change.

In other words, if this passes out of the Lege and is voted into the Constitution, gay marriage won't be merely illegal in the state of Texas, it'll be Double Secret Illegal. I'm sure if there were a way for bill author Warren Chisum (R, Pampa) to include language to forbid the courts and future legislatures from ever reversing this little ode to homophobia, he'd have done it.

Rep. Martha Wong of Houston was among six Republican members of the State Affairs Committee who voted for House Joint Resolution 6. Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, cast the sole vote against the measure, and two other Democrats who sit on the committee were absent.

Wong, whose district includes Montrose, long the center of Houston's gay community, recommended against consideration of a broader version of the legislation that could have banned civil unions and domestic partnerships.

"I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state chooses to do," Wong said.

Mighty big of you there, Martha. I'll get back to you in a minute.

The vote took Farrar by surprise, coming just minutes into the early-morning meeting.

"I was disappointed that we weren't more deliberate in this. It was just political," said Farrar, D-Houston.

Farrar said she had hoped to hear testimony from the Texas attorney general's office about whether a court challenge of the constitutional amendment is expected and how much the state might have to spend to fight such a lawsuit.

Let's talk about this for a minute. If the State Affairs Committee had asked AG Greg Abbott what his opinion was of the cost to defend lawsuits stemming from this legislation would be, is there any figure he could have named that would have given them pause? A million? Ten million? What other items in the budget might face shortages because we just had to outlaw something that was already illegal? David Swinford, the chair of State Affairs, apparently doesn't care.

What about those two absent Democrats?

"Was I surprised that it came up for vote at 8 a.m. Monday morning ... when it was not on the copy of the agenda we were provided? Yes, I was," said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio.

The State Affairs Committee's agenda had a specific list of 13 bills it was to hear testimony on, including several dealing with stem-cell research and cloning, which drew a packed house to the hearing room.

"I am (angry)," said Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer, D-San Antonio. "I was told by the chairman that the questions I raised (in an earlier committee hearing) were valid and that we'd get an (assistant) attorney general to come talk to us, and that didn't happen."


Swinford, who could not be reached for comment on the lawmakers' complaints, acknowledged earlier in the day that the specific item wasn't on the agenda, "but it was pending business."

Typically, a committee like state affairs handles hundreds of bills, often hearing testimony on larger, more controversial bills at one hearing, but voting on them at a subsequent hearing. The same-sex marriage ban did not get a second hearing.

"I do not understand why such a divisive and controversial issue as this was treated as if it's a minor policy matter hearing testimony one week and voting it out the following week," Martinez-Fischer said.

"I am all for efficiency, but I believe this deserved a lot more debate and discussion, instead of it flying out of committee the way it did," he said.

The lawmaker said he had also raised concerns with Swinford that the bill's language could impact existing civil contracts, wills and other issues. Gays and lesbians in Texas can enter into civil unions or sign contracts that can be enforced in civil court.

"What I wanted, and what (Swinford) assured me of, was an (attorney general's official) to come tell us that it is going to cost the taxpayers some money to defend in court against the challenges that are sure to come," Martinez-Fischer said.

He noted that "when we are told this measure won't have a fiscal impact, that is not correct. Anytime you have a constitutional issue, there will almost certainly be a court challenge, and I'd like to know how much in time, effort, and resources defending this bill will cost Texas."

In an interview before the lawmakers raised their objections, Swinford said he was unaware of any "issue of concern. It is a simple one-sentence bill ... and we want to put it in the constitution so that some activist judge out there won't overturn the wishes of the people. It's that simple."

Obviously, I overlooked HJR6 as a reason to target David Swinford. Having seen his ignorant and dismissive attitude here, I no longer care how Republican his district is. He deserves to be strongly challenged next year.

As for Martha Wong, I say this: You chose ideology over the wishes of your constituents, and you will face their wrath next year. Everybody knows what you did: Randall Ellis, BOR, Pink Dome, In the Pink Texas, Texas Law Chick. Enjoy what's left of your time in office.

Final thought: Mike Villareal is apparently going to be leading the fight against HJR6 in the House. Whatever you may thought of him during the budget votes, I think he's doing plenty to balance the scales. Go get 'em, Mike.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 12, 2005 to That's our Lege | TrackBack

The other reason Swinford is on the Texas Democratic Party's target list that the seat may be an open one. He continues to tell folks he is considering a statewide run next year, probably for Agriculture Commissioner is incumbent Susan Combs follows through on her threat... er, I mean promise... to run for Comptroller.

Posted by: Zangwell Arrow on April 12, 2005 11:22 AM

To pick up on the civil unions bit: There's an interesting bit of political theater playing out here in Minnesota regarding gay marriage/civil unions.

The MN bill specifically outlaws civil unions as well, making it more prohibitive than Texas' proposed law. That led this post at the Minnesota Politics Guru's blog: Texas less bigoted than Minnesota?. No offense to my fellow Texans, but that's one sure way to get a rise out of folks here.

Now for the theater part: The bill's sponsor, State Senator Michelle Bachmann, is about as wingnutty as they come, down to standing on the state capitol's steps with David Horowitz propounding the virtues of his "Freedom In Academia" crap. She's already announced her intention to run for the congressional seat vacated by Mark Kennedy (who, BTW, was one of the top 10 recipient's of Tom DeLay's PAC money and narrowly beat an unknown to retain his seat last fall), who has announced he'll run for Mark Dayton's Senate seat in 2006.

Anyway, Bachmann's gay marriage amendment is political posturing at its nakedest. For one thing, a constitutional amendment can't be voted on until a statewide election, which won't be until '06; so why'd she introduce it in this session? For another, she tried to pull some parliamentary trick to get the amendment out of committee and to the senate floor -- which failed. To top it off, she tried that stunt on the very day that various GLBT groups were holding a rally at the capitol. Generally bad form.

If you've read this far, here's the fun: After her maneuver failed, she apparently went out to the rally and hid in the bushes, apparently afraid to be seen. Well, some alert security guard found a protester with a camera, asked, "Wanna really piss someone off?" and pointed him in the right direction. You can read about it here.

There's also a story circulating that she screamed for help in the bathroom, fearing two women who followed her in while talking about issues. That story is here.

Man, I hope she gets the Republican nomination. She's like our own little Alan Keyes.

Posted by: CrispyShot on April 12, 2005 12:11 PM