UPDATE: #SaveChickFilA Bill Moves Closer to Adoption in a Blow to LGBTQ Rights

SB 1978 passes House despite heart-wrenching testimony

Updated Tuesday, May 21, 1pm:

After another hour of debate on Tuesday, May 21, the Texas House has passed Senate Bill 1978 by a vote of 79-64.

Members of the LGBTQ Caucus surround Chair Rep. Mary González as she asks her colleagues to vote no on religious exemption bill SB 1978.

Minutes before the vote, San Antonio Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer chastised his conservative colleagues for using San Antonio City Council's decision to block fast-food chain Chick-fil-A from opening in the city's airport as a means to move their religious exemption bill through the legislature. Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, also attempted to dissuade members of the chamber from supporting the bill that seeks to protect people and businesses who are in someway affiliated with or support religious organizations – even ones known to discriminate. Still the bill passed on its third and final read.

Updated Monday, May 20, 1pm:

Despite heart-wrenching testimony from the members of the Texas House’s LGBTQ Caucus, the House, on second reading, passed Senate Bill 1978 by a vote of 79-62.

Now it’s nearly certain that the bill will head to the Governor’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law. The religious exemption bill seeks to “protect people from being punished for their religious affiliations,” explained Rep. Matt Krause, R-Ft. Worth, who authored the now-dead House companion bill.

Before the vote was taken, the five founding members of the Caucus – including freshman Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, who killed the companion HB 3172 a couple weeks ago – begged their colleagues to not support SB 1978. Johnson insisted the underlying message of the bill known as the #SaveChickFilA bill sends a message that Texas is “not open and welcoming to all” and puts Texas on the “wrong side of history.” (Again.) While Rep. Erin Zweiner, D-Driftwood, shared a story about her grandfather who argued against LGBTQ Texans rights for years. “He died before I came out as bi … he didn’t know he was talking about his granddaughter. He didn’t know he was hurting me. But he was. … You don't need this vote. … Choose to not end your own grandchildren’s stories with a but,” Zweiner said.

Yet it was Reps. Celia Israel and Caucus Chair Mary González, D-Clint, who got the most emotional. Choking back tears, Israel admitted: “This bill is going to pass, let's face it,” but added that she hopes young LGBTQ Texans are watching to know that they’re not alone and that the Caucus is fighting for them. González, surrounded by the full Caucus, closed by recalling the time when she was the only out LGBTQ member of the Texas House when she received death and rape threats for “being who I am.” She too implored her colleagues to vote no: “I ask for your courage, strength, love, and compassion – something I have shown to you every day… because I truly love the Texas House. You are my family … and I will say: Family sticks up for each other. I ask you [to] vote no.”

Krause followed González’s speech, insisting he did not want to minimize the Caucus’ joint experiences, but also insisted SB 1978 does not discriminate against anyone and instead protects everyone. (González attempted to address this too, asking her fellow representatives to come back next session and work on a bill that would actually protect everyone where SB 1978 falls short.)

Following the House’s approval, the bill will return to the Senate for approval of one amendment added by Krause, which seeks to remove the Attorney General from the bill. Another amendment offered by Caucus Vice Chair and Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, attempted to put in place protections against LGBTQ discrimination, but that failed.

Original post, Friday, May 17, 4:25pm:

Senate Bill 1978, best known as the #SaveChickFilA bill, was voted out of the House State Affairs Committee on Friday, May 17, and will proceed to the full House.

LGBTQ Caucus Chair Rep. Mary González addresses the crowd, backed by caucus members and supporters in February (Photo by Sarah Marloff)

If it passes in the lower chamber, the bill – dubbed a "license to discriminate against LGBTQ persons and other marginalized communities" by the House's LGBTQ Caucus – will head to the governor's desk where it will likely be signed into law.

In an email sent Friday afternoon, the Caucus, which formed in January, said they are "prepared to amend SB 1978 to protect members of the LGBTQ community from being discriminated against." Just over a week ago, freshman Rep. Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton, a founding member of the Caucus, killed SB 1978's House companion bill with a "point of order," but the Senate was quick to reanimate its version of the bill, which has since been amended to match the House version.

As put forth (and amended) by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, SB 1978 seeks to put into law protections for people and businesses who've donated to or are affiliated with a religious organization from being penalized by city or government officials for that relationship even if the organization is known to discriminate against the LGBTQ community or others. Its momentum grew when San Antonio's City Council blocked Chick-fil-A from opening an airport location due to its longstanding anti-LGBTQ connections.

It's unclear if the Caucus will again focus efforts on killing the bill, but according to the press release, they've already prepared several amendments intending to "protect LGBTQ Texans’ rights to marry, adopt, and live free from discrimination."

Caucus Chair Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, said, “Our caucus remains firmly opposed to the bill, and we are asking our colleagues to put a stop to this divisive piece of legislation, which should never reach the Texas House Floor,” while Vice Chair Rep. Jessica González, D-Dallas, accused SB 1978 of continuing "dangerous dialogue" and hurting queer youth with its anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

On Thursday, May 16, after the Senate sent SB 1978 back to the House, Equality Texas' Interim Executive Director Samantha Smoot put it bluntly: "Senate Bill 1978 has one aim only: to undermine LGBTQ equality and promote anti-LGBTQ messages. In any form, this bill advances messages that hurt the LGBTQ community.” In order for the bill to move to the governor's desk, it will have to be approved by the full House by 11:59pm Sunday night *(May 26), so get ready for a long week.

Editor's note: This piece has been amended since publication where it originally suggested SB 1978 needed to pass the full House by Sunday, May 19. In fact, it'll have to pass by Sunday, May 26, at 11:59pm.

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