In the latest defeat for opponents of LGBT rights in Texas, the state House on Monday nixed for the time being a proposed measure that would have allowed child welfare services to discriminate for religious reasons against LGBT people.
Rep. Scott Sanford (R-Collin County) proposed the amendment to a sunset bill for the Department of Family & Protective Services. It was along the lines of House Bill 3864, legislation he introduced earlier in the year.
But after he proposed the amendment on the floor, Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) raised a point of order on the vehicle bill on the basis the amendment wasn’t properly filed. The Texas House agreed to the point of order, sending both the proposed amendment and the vehicle bill back to committee.
Introducing his amendment, Sanford framed the measure as a protective measure to allow child welfare services to continue work in Texas in the event same-sex marriage is legalized there. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on whether same-sex couples have a right to marry nationwide is expected before the end of June.
“Faith-based organizations have played a vital role in serving our nation’s orphan and needy children since America’s founding, and this legislation protects their operations.” Sanford said. “States without these protective measures have had organizations cease to operate, placing more demands on local government and risk in Texas are 25 percent of our child placement agencies.”
Sanford invoked the decisions of Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts and D.C. to halt operations there after marriage equality came to those jurisdictions, as well as Catholic adoption agencies in Illinois after the state legalized civil unions, saying the agencies were “forced” to take those actions. Each of those agencies was already barred from discriminating against LGBT people on the basis of laws in those jurisdictions and halted operations on their own volition.
After the point of order against the anti-LGBT adoption measure was sustained, LGBT advocates claimed victory. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the point of order was the last opportunity for the measure, or whether it could be revived at a later time in some other fashion. The Texas legislative session continues until June 1.
Dan Quinn, spokesperson for the pro-LGBT Texas Freedom Network, said an opportunity remains for an anti-LGBT adoption bill to become law this legislative session.
“So the bill must now go back to committee, get fixed there, get voted out again, and then sent to House Calendars,” Quinn said. “Then the Calendars Committee must set it for a floor vote again. It’s unclear whether the bill will clear all those obstacles in the two weeks left in the session. We’ll just have to see.”
Sanford’s office didn’t immediately respond to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the lawmaker would seek additional opportunities to pass the measure.
Quinn added LGBT advocates in the state will continue efforts to block the anti-LGBT adoption bill in the event of renewed efforts to pass it.
“Bottom line: This happened because Rep. Sanford was determined to push his divisive, discriminatory amendment,” Quinn said. “Opponents will use whatever tools are available to stop efforts to put political agendas ahead of the interests of children by allowing discrimination against people simply because of who they are and whom they love.”
The Texas House nixed the anti-LGBT adoption amendment just one week after time expired for the Texas House to vote on standalone legislation that would seek to defy a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality by barring the use of state or local funds to issue a marriage license to same-sex couples. The sponsor of the measure, Rep. Chuck Bell (R-Magnolia), has vowed to pass the measure as an amendment to another bill, although he must amend germane legislation for that strategy to succeed under House rules.
Another bill that could endanger same-sex couples in Texas is SB 2065, which reinforces the First Amendment right of clergy to refuse to officiate same-sex weddings. One concern about the bill is the lack of clarity on 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 if the legislation passes.
Because the Senate passed SB 2065 before the deadline, it could come up any time for a vote of approval in the Texas House, which would send the measure to the governor’s desk.
These bills were among more than 20 pieces of pending anti-LGBT measures in the state legislature ahead of anticipated Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.