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Anti-Gay Marriage Legislation Gets Nastier

By Amy Smith, April 8, 2005, News

A proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage was left pending in a House committee in the wee hours Tuesday morning, while a quasi-subcommittee tries to figure out what to do with some harsher language that the bill's sponsor added at the last minute.

Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, whose HJR 6 brought out the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender troops Monday to testify against it, surprised the State Affairs Committee with a substitute that merges his bill with a separate bill authored by gay foe Robert Talton, the Pasadena Republican who riled folks in 2003 with his unsuccessful attempt to prevent gays and lesbians from becoming foster parents. But committee members on Monday did not appear altogether comfortable with the Chisum-Talton merger, which would prevent the state from recognizing "any legal status similar to marriage for unmarried persons," regardless of sexual orientation.

In any case, the committee of three Democrats and six Republicans could deliver a vote on the bill before the end of the week, sending the legislation to the House floor for another reliable "yes" vote. It's downhill from there as the legislation would proceed to a statewide vote in November. Monday's testimony (which included opposing remarks by the son of committee member and HJR 6 co-signer, Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland) started off with Chisum having to defend his proposal to two of the gay community's strongest committee allies – Democratic Reps. Mike Villarreal of San Antonio and Jessica Farrar of Houston.

As the recently married Farrar noted, "I think marriage is so important that I don't think we should be shutting the door on anyone." Chisum responded, "I don't think it's discrimination. You can't find anybody that this discriminates against." As audience members chuckled, the representative sought to clarify his position. "It does not discriminate against a person. It discriminates against practices."

Under questioning from Villarreal, Chisum explained his views another way. "It'll give [children] that protection that, when they say, 'I'm part of a family,' they'll know what that means. They'll say, 'I have a mother and a father who are married.' It just protects that family unit from being encroached upon by some other kind of situation."

"What do you mean 'encroached upon'?" Villarreal asked. "Well, you know what I mean," Chisum said. "I mean, it's the homosexuals coming up and saying, 'We're married, too!' That's what it'll protect. Let's be very honest about this."

Perhaps the committee member with the greatest to lose on this issue is Rep. Martha Wong, R-Houston, whose district takes in the gay-populated Montrose area. Wong's demeanor – silent and stoic throughout the proceeding – irked many observers because she, more than others, was lobbied heavily in the days and weeks leading up to the hearing. "It was clear that she was not interested," said Randall Ellis, a Houston native and executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas. Wong's district, Ellis added, is the most educated and affluent in the state. Ellis points to her political vulnerability, should she decide to run for re-election, because the LGRL has identified 5,100 voters in Wong's district who support marriage equality.

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