As Texas lawmakers prepare to vote on legislation aimed at circumventing an anticipated U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the state’s business leaders are largely keeping quiet.
The business community’s opposition in Indiana helped ignite a media firestorm against a religious freedom law there that is so far absent in the Texas debate.
On Tuesday, the Texas House is set to vote on HB 4105, a bill that would prohibit the use of state or local funds to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple. Additionally, the legislation — one of among more than 20 pieces of pending anti-LGBT measures in the state legislature — would block state or local employees from recognizing a same-sex marriage license and prohibit the use of funds to recognize such unions.
Chuck Smith, executive director of the statewide LGBT group Equality Texas, said in a conference call Monday the “mean-spirited piece of legislation” seeks to subvert same-sex couples from marrying in Texas if the Supreme Court strikes down state bans on gay nuptials.
“While lesbian and gay couples in the rest of the country will celebrate the ability to get married, those in Texas will find yet another roadblock placed in their way denying them the ability to exercise their constitutional right to marry the person they love,” Smith said.
Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said the legislation is “patently unconstitutional,” but doesn’t know what impact a ruling from the Supreme Court would have on the measure if it were enshrined into law.
“Until we see what ruling the Supreme Court issues and how it is framed, I don’t think we’ll know what the impact on this law is,” Robertson said. “I think if this law were to go into effect, we are destined for litigation one way or the other.”
Defeating HB 4105 seems unlikely. The legislation as of Monday has a total of 87 co-authors, which exceeds the simple majority necessary to pass a bill in the 150-member chamber, according to the Texas Legislature’s website.
But the House in Texas is seen as the more moderate chamber of the legislature. Blocking passage in that chamber is crucial because the Senate is likely to pass the bill and Gov. Greg Abbott, an opponent of same-sex marriage, is expected to sign the measure into law if it reaches his desk.
The good news for LGBT advocates is that 204 bills are scheduled for a vote on Tuesday ahead of the marriage legislation and the deadline is Thursday at midnight for the House to pass legislation that hasn’t been already approved by the Senate. After that time, the bill would be essentially dead.
Advocates are looking to the business community to step in much like it did against religious freedom measures seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in Indiana, Arkansas and Arizona.
Smith said although business leaders haven’t been public in speaking out against HB 4105, behind the scenes they’re meeting with lawmakers to express concerns.
“I think much of the business opposition is occurring on a one-on-one basis where CEOs and government affairs people from many Texas-based companies are having conversations about the harms that legislation such as this — any legislation that specifically seeks out to target LGBT people — how that is harmful for the brand, especially in a state that has a Super Bowl pending in the coming years, that has a Final Four pending in the coming years,” Smith said.
Smith added he would “absolutely” like business leaders to begin speaking out against the legislation publicly in addition to the closed-door talks that he said are taking place.
But numerous business leaders in Texas, including the state’s most influential business association, had nothing to say about the legislation when contacted by the Washington Blade to see if they’d oppose the measures.
Robert Wood, spokesperson for the Texas Association of Businesses, said his organization hasn’t “taken any position, nor testified” on the legislation and doesn’t have any comment at this time.
That stands in contrast to the organization’s position on two proposed constitutional amendments in the Texas Legislature, House Joint Resolution 55 and Senate Joint Resolution 10, which are along the lines of the controversial religious freedom law in Indiana. The Texas Association of Businesses came out against those measures in March.
With estimated revenue of $407.6 billion in 2013, the largest company by revenue headquartered in Texas is oil-and-gas giant ExxonMobil. Scott Silvestri, an ExxonMobil spokesperson, responded to the legislation by saying, “We do not support discrimination of any kind,” but didn’t reply to a follow-up email on whether that applies to HB 4105.
The company has a history of opposing LGBT rights. On 17 different occasions, the company’s shareholders rejected a proposed resolution during the annual meeting to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the equal employment opportunity policy. Only after President Obama signed an executive order barring federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT employment discrimination did ExxonMobil change its policy.
Many of the highest revenue companies in Texas belong to the energy sector. After ExxonMobil, the company with the greatest annual revenue is Phillips 66, which had 2013 revenue of $166.2 billion. A spokesperson for Phillip 66 said the company has no comment on the legislation.
Tina Barbee, a spokesperson for Texas-based oil company Tesoro 66 Corp., said the company is “not planning to participate in this article request.”
Other Texas-based companies with significant revenue, including Halliburton and ConocoPhillips, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The telecommunications giant AT&T, which had 2013 revenue of $128 billion, is based in Dallas. The company didn’t respond to the Blade’s request, but signed a statement from the Human Rights Campaign in opposition to state proposals that would allow anti-LGBT discrimination.
Matt Miller, a spokesperson for the Fort Worth-based American Airlines, responded to the legislation with a general statement that his company “has been a pioneer” in fair-minded policies for LGBT customers and employees.
“We believe no individual should be refused service or employment because of gender identity or sexual orientation,” Miller said. “Laws that allow such discrimination create an unfavorable social and business climate, are fundamentally unfair, and promote intolerance and division. They will also harm the economies of the states in which they are enacted, and would ultimately be a step in the wrong direction for a society that seeks tolerance, peace and prosperity for all.”
Asked whether that applies to HB 4105, Miller replied, “We don’t support any legislation that could be interpreted to allow businesses and business owners to refuse to provide services to individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
A major difference between the religious freedom measures and the Texas legislation is bills in other states were seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination in business, but the Texas bill is about state funding for the government service of issuing a marriage license.
[UPDATE: On Tuesday, Miller responded with an updated statement saying American Airlines opposes “any legislation that directly or indirectly discriminates” against LGBT people, pointing to the initial sentence when asked whether the statement applies to HB 4105.
“We oppose any legislation that directly or indirectly discriminates against individuals based on their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Miller said. “Laws that allow such discrimination create an unfavorable social and business climate, are fundamentally unfair, and promote intolerance and division. They will also harm the economies of the states in which they are enacted, and would ultimately be a step in the wrong direction for a society that seeks tolerance, peace and prosperity for all.”]
A spokesperson for the National Football League didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it would be comfortable hosting Super Bowl LI as planned in Houston if HB 4105 becomes law.
Also declining to comment on the legislation at this time is the White House. And a spokesperson for the Hillary Clinton campaign didn’t immediately provide a response.
HB 4105 isn’t the only bill headed toward a vote in the state legislature that could present a problem for gay and lesbian people in Texas. Other legislation, scheduled for a vote Monday in the Senate and Tuesday in the House, also presents a concern for LGBT advocates.
As initially written, the bills — HB 3567 in the House and SB 2065 in the Senate — would have allowed both clergy and religious-affiliated organizations to refuse both to celebrate same-sex marriages or treat existing marriages as valid. The legislation in the House has since been modified so that it would only affect the celebration gay weddings; language with respect to treating same-sex marriages as valid is now omitted.
Still, it’s unclear if the legislation passes whether clergy who also serve in a secular capacity, such as a justice of the peace, would be allowed to discriminate in their secular role.against same-sex couples seeking to wed.
Kathy Miller, president of the pro-LGBT Texas Freedom Network, said the bills have been made “tremendously better,” but her organization is pushing for a small change to make them more clear they would only affect clergy as they operate in the capacity of their religion.
“Because social services, hospitals and health care are often taken on by religious institutions and organizations in our state, we want to be clear and because clergy sometimes serve as a civil role in our state, we want to be sure that they language of the bill is clear that we are talking about the ecclesiastical role of the house of worship or the clergy, and not the roles they take in our civic life otherwise,” Miller said.
Given the speed with which the bills could move through the legislature and be signed into law, Miller said her organization is sounding the alarm at this time to make the greatest possible effort to derail the bills.
“The ball game is really all being in the Texas House of Representatives in the next 72 hours,” Miller said. “If I had to say, I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s critical that people that speak out. The thing that will stop this bill from becoming law is growing outcry from Texans and business about the need to recognize the freedom to marry for all Texas citizens.”