Republicans Swap Marriage Ban for Angry Letter

Political cover after failure of gay marriage bill

Rep. Cecil Bell: sending a strongly worded letter about gay marriage to his representative. Wait, what?
Rep. Cecil Bell: sending a strongly worded letter about gay marriage to his representative. Wait, what?

Last night, Democrats were slapping themselves on the back after House Bill 4105, effectively a ban on gay marriage in Texas, died because the clock ran out. This morning, in a show of poor loserdom, House Republicans have signed a letter saying they still simply believe that same-sex marriage will cause the end of civilization.

Calling "traditional marriage" the "bedrock institution of both our society and the success Texas has been blessed to experience since our admission as the 28th state," the 93 House members proclaimed support for Article 1, Section 32 of the Texas Constitution, stating that marriage is between one man and one woman. However, that section of the Constitution was only added in 2005, so it's a stretch to retro-actively ascribe anything in the previous 160 years to that amendment.

It's a belated line in the sand. With the end of the session imminent, under House rules the measure needed to pass second reading before the end of business yesterday, the 122nd day of the 84th Legislature. Yet it was clear early in yesterday's calendar that HB 4105 was never going to get to the floor before the midnight axe came down.

Dubbed the Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act, it was designed to block same-sex marriage, and was a clear attempt to challenge any future pro-gay marriage ruling from the US Supreme Court. To quote the analysis, if passed it would prohibit "an employee or official of the state or a political subdivision of the state from issuing, enforcing, or recognizing a marriage license or declaration of informal marriage for a union other than a union between one man and one woman."

Not only that, but in a fine display of meanspirited cheapskatedness, the state would extract the $30 filing fee from the issuing county or municipality. So people would have to pay for the right to not get married.

Its failure is a self-inflicted wound. If Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, had filed it before March 13, it might have stood a chance of earlier, safer passage. As was, it was a minor miracle that it made it this far. Bills with a number in the 4,000s, filed two months into the session, aren't really supposed to get a second hearing.

Think about that.

But this measure was a favorite of the House Republican caucus, with three authors and 86 co-authors, and so it sped through committee, making it on to the calendar for the final day that it could conceivably pass to third reading.

Think about that.

If it had passed, then Texas lawmakers could tell fundamentalist, homophobic primary voters, "Look what we did!"

At the same time, they would have to explain to the business community – now marked by full-throated opposition to discrimination – what they had done.

The fate of this measure shows the fine balancing act that the modern GOP must strike, between the fringe right and the corporate right. Businesses of all scales have made it completely clear that they oppose such legislation: not only because it is cruel, but because it's a great way to scare off potential customers and investors. This session, new group Texas Competes, comprising commercial power players like Southwest Airlines, Dell, Samsung, Alamo Drafthouse, PR firm GSD&M, and SXSW made a vocal commitment to LGBT equality. Even the normally loyal fiscal conservative Bill Hammond of the Texas Association of Business has chastised lawmakers for such bills.

The fight against anti-LGBT bills is not over yet. Yesterday, Senate Bill 2065, the Texas version of Indiana's "religious freedom bill" (see Bill of the Week, May 8) was referred to the House State Affairs Committee. As for the gist of HB 4105, Bell has told the Dallas Morning News that he may try to get it tacked onto another bill as an amendment. SB 2065 could be a primary contender, and Republicans still have until May 26 to get it back to the chamber for a second reading. The question is, do they really want to?

As it stands, it's easy to let all such legislation fade away against the ticking of the countdown clock before sine die and the session's end. Today's letter gives them political cover to their anti-LGBT wing. But its death will take the edge off the business community's outrage.

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