From the outset, the 84th legislative session has been one of the most anti-LGBT” in recent history. There have been at least 20 bills filed this session that would hurt LGBT rights in some way or another, from bills attacking non-discrimination protections to attempts to erode legal protections for transgender people. This upcoming week alone, the Lege is expected to hear two anti-marriage equality bills: HB 4105, which prohibits state and local employees from recognizing or issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and HB 3567, which grants religious organizations the right not to celebrate same-sex marriages.
But legislators should take note, because the bills they are trying to make into law are not truly representative of the views of their constituents. A new poll released this week found that 63% of Texas voters support measures to protect LGBT individuals from discrimination. In addition, a majority of voters think discrimination against the LGBT community is a problem, that religious freedom doesn’t entail the right to discriminate against LGBT people, and that same-sex marriage is not a threat to religious freedom.
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, noted how out-of-touch this new poll shows that legislators are (emphasis added):
“Texas lawmakers are too busy perfecting a discrimination playbook to notice that their constituents have left them behind. It’s time for our legislators to join their fellow Texans in embracing equality under the law for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.“
Rebecca L. Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, continued:
“Extremist politicians are incubating a strategy for preserving the right to discriminate against gay, lesbian and transgender Texans no matter what the Supreme Court says about marriage. Bills proposed in Texas go far beyond what we’ve seen in states like Indiana and Arkansas, but as this poll shows, these proposals just don’t square with Texans’ values.”
Instead of continuing to push discriminatory bills, legislators would be wise to follow the example of Democratic Rep. Garnet Coleman, who presented two anti-discrimination bills in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence this week. Coleman’s first bill, HB 2059, expand the state’s hate crime statute to include gender identity or expression, while his second bill, HB 2057, would remove “homosexual conduct” from the Texas penal code. Despite the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that made this type of law illegal, Texas law still lists sexual acts between two consenting members of the same sex as a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a $500 fine. Since the Supreme Court ruling, police have been unable to enforce the law, but it is currently still on the books.
Said Rep. Coleman on HB 2057 in a statement (emphasis added):
“No Texan is ‘unacceptable’. I continue to be surprised – though at this point I shouldn’t be – that we have dragged our feet so long on striking this bigoted, unconstitutional law from our books. The longer we delay, the longer we uphold an indignity for LGBT Texans who have every right to live their lives free from discrimination and judgment.
As Rep. Coleman hinted at, it’s the unfortunately the case that the Texas House will likely choose to pursue measures that hurt the LGBT community, instead of moving Texas forward. With the Supreme Court set to rule on legalizing same-sex marriage any day now, marriage inequality may soon be a thing of the past. But if there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that the Texas Legislature will do everything it can to stop our state from progressing–so it’s up to us, the majority of Texans who do support equality, to stand up for what’s right.