Still angry about the Supreme Court’s mandate, some conservative lawmakers hope that it is someday overturned. In the meantime, they expect to propose a series of what they call religious liberty bills to blunt its impact. Those efforts worry liberal advocacy groups — Steve Rudner, with Equality Texas, called them “backlash” to the marriage decision — who argue such legislation is discriminatory.
Both sides agree that last year’s landmark ruling ignited a debate over social issues in Texas that will demand the attention of the next Legislature.
Nationwide, celebrations greeted the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. But in Texas, whose longtime ban on same-sex marriage was overturned, some lawmakers made it clear that the debate was not over.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick quickly condemned the decision as federal overreach. Attorney General Ken Paxton declared “religious liberty” the next fight, charging that “the debate over the issue of marriage has increasingly devolved into personal and economic aggression against people of faith who have sought to live their lives consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
A year later, opposition to same-sex marriage for religious reasons has become the focal point of demands that the Texas Legislature act in response.
“I do think that it is very important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that part of religious freedom is that citizens do have that inherent right to not have to do things that put them at odds with their religion,” said state Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., R-Magnolia.
State Sen. Charles Perry, a Lubbock Republican who described the ruling as an “assault on family values,” expects that charge to be a focus when lawmakers convene next year.
“I’m not going to be surprised at whatever level on both sides this is attacked,” Perry said.
While Perry has not seen specific legislation, he hopes the Legislature addresses the rights of businesses to choose whom to work with — such as same-sex couples — and suggested “that’ll be one of the more contentious debates.”
Some laws have already passed: Before the Supreme Court decision last year, the 84th Legislature passed the Pastor Protection Act, which allows clergy members to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. Some lawmakers have suggested more responses along those lines, such as allowing religious adoption agencies to refuse to place children with same-sex couples or granting tax accommodations to religious organizations.
Bell said he would not be surprised to see proposals to limit the abilities of cities to extend anti-discrimination protections to gay and transgender people. Lawmakers also expect to debate transgender people’s bathroom access.
Perry argues that the federal government has forced Texas to address the issue. “It will unfortunately take up time during the session,” he said. “I hate that, but at the end of the day, it’s important. The underlying principle here is that we had a Supreme Court that overran.”
You know how I feel about this. This is what the Republican Party in Texas is about. I hope the business lobby that has enabled them for decades is happy about it, because they’re going to spend another session trying to stop them from doing anything that will hurt the state and likely wind up losing in court. The rest of us need to be in on that fight as well. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know what will happen if we let it, and it ain’t good.