Gay Marriage Bills Introduced In Republican-Dominated Texas

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Texas state house found itself with its fifth piece of legislation regarding same-sex marriage in less than two weeks. While the authors of these bills are outwardly optimistic about their passage, Texas won’t be legalizing same- sex marriage any time soon.

The most recent bill, introduced Thursday by Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth), would repeal provisions from 2003 in the Texas Family Code that denied same-sex couples the ability to marry in the state, and would also recognize same-sex marriages from other states. This follows a February 6 bill filed by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas) to repeal the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment.

The United States as a whole may be becoming increasingly accepting of gay marriage, but Texas lags far behind. A poll conducted by the Texas Tribune in October indicated that while Texas voters are open to some idea of legal partnership for gay couples, 58% still say they are against same-sex marriage, compared to only 43%nationally.

This is in keeping with past statewide proposals relating to gay marriage. In 2005 — the last time a proposition regarding same sex marriage came up for statewide vote — 76% of voters in Texas approved Proposition 2, which banned same-sex marriage and civil unions, and in 2003 the state enacted a statute that voided all existing same-sex marriages and civil unions.

But a ban on gay marriage isn’t the only law regarding same-sex couples on the books in the state. Despite the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that laws regulating "deviate sexual intercourse” between members of the same sex were unconstitutional, the state still has not removed the statute from its penal code. This makes Texas one of only four states (including Oklahoma, Kansas, and Montana) where unenforceable laws regulating sexual acts between same-sex couples have not been repealed.

History aside, Texas’ present political condition means that neither Burnam’s nor Anchia’s bills stand a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. While Texas Republicans lost their supermajority in the House in November, they still have a 95 – 55 majority. Republicans also control the Senate with a 19 – 12 majority.  

And in order to stand any chance of being heard, a bill must enjoy support from both the Speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor, who presides over the Senate, as both have a huge amount of say over the movement of the bills on the floor. Timing is particularly important, given that Texas’ legislative session only lasts for 140 days and only happens every other year.

So if a bill stumbles in either chamber, there isn’t much time to hold another vote.

Unfortunately for those pushing these gay marriage bills, both Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst are Republican. Even though Straus voted against a law that would prevent gay couples from being foster parents and attends a synagogue that performs same-sex marriages in San Antonio, he still voted for the 2005 amendment. Dewhurst, while he has remained largely silent on the issue of gay marriage, did the same. There is no indication they would stray from party lines this time around.

Additionally, Rick Perry — the longtime governor of Texas — has been very open about his strong opposition to same-sex marriage. While he has spoken in favor of other states having the right to decide to allow gay marriage in their own state, he’s openly said gay marriage is not right for Texas — even inviting gay and lesbian military members coming home from war to live in another state. In 2011, he lead a prayer rally that drew 30,000 people that was almost completely financed and organized by the American Family Association, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has long classified as an antigay hate group.

So, even if these bills pass through the Republican-controlled House and Senate despite being opposed by both leaders, Perry will most certainly veto them.

This doesn’t meant that a bill legalizing gay marriage in Texas wouldn’t be successful in the future, as the Texas Tribune poll indicates gradual improvement from previous years, though improvement may be irrelevant as the Supreme Court is set to rule on two different cases involving gay marriage. But, as for now, approval of same-sex marriage in the state faces obstacles at every level of consideration, an unfortunate reality for the authors of the bills and the thousands of gay people living in Texas.