Bill of the Week: Senate Bill 2065

Would make it legal to discriminate for "sincerely held" beliefs

Bill of the Week

Senate Bill 2065

Author: Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls

Filed: April 28 Passed by Senate State Affairs Committee: May 6

Filed well past deadline and fast-tracked to committee, Sen. Craig Estes' SB 2065 contains strains of the infamous Indiana "religious freedom" law – it would allow religious organizations and those employed by them, clergy, or ministers to deny marriage services, accommodations, facilities, or sale of goods related to marriage if to do so violates "a sincerely held religious belief." The bill also shields any group or person from civil or criminal action, or from losing tax exempt status or government contracts when taking those actions.

During a May 4 State Affairs Committee hearing, anti-LGBT speakers showed up in full force – with one witness equating same-sex marriage to a "hate crime" and another to "bestiality." Faith leaders predictably argued the bill would protect them from litigation and provide the ability to "exercise their conscience."

Gay rights advocacy and civil liberty groups offered up an amendment to allay some concerns. The ACLU of Texas, the Texas Free­dom Network, and Equality Texas hoped to ensure clergy would only be subject to the protection "acting in that capacity" [as clergy]. Due to the loud opposition by pastors who support the bill, Estes declined to accept that four-word amendment, leaving the potential for clergy to discriminate in public roles, such as justices of the peace or other governmental capacities. "The bill opens the door for pastors serving in a civil capacity to not treat couples equally by refusing to perform marriages for religious reasons," TFN's communications director Dan Quinn told the Chronicle. "We offered an easy fix and the bill author chose not to take it." (The House companion, HB 3567 by Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, passed out of State Affairs on April 27.)

The legislation, requested by anti-LGBT Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, was filed last Tuesday, yet set for a committee hearing just two days later, an atypical practice in the Capitol – and the Senate temporarily suspended its rules to get SB 2065 up and running on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court was to hear arguments on marriage equality (a ruling on which is expected in June).

This is just one of more than 20 anti-LGBT bills filed this session, and part of a handful that are steadily advancing in the final weeks of the session – including Sanford's HB 3864 (passed out of Juvenile Justice & Family Issues Com­mit­tee April 22), which would allow state-funded child welfare providers to discriminate against LGBT families based on religious beliefs, and HB 4105 (passed out of State Affairs April 22) by Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Mag­nol­ia, which would prevent state or local funds from being used to license or recognize same-sex marriages. "We've never seen this many anti-LGBT bills filed before," said Quinn. "It's clear that it's part of a larger strategy to enshrine discriminatory laws in Texas before a Supreme Court ruling or any other decision. Meanwhile, LGBT families will spend months or years fighting these measures in litigation. If some of these bills pass, it will ultimately drag Texas into a whirlwind of criticism that will make the Indiana uproar pale in comparison."

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Texas Legislature 2015, anti-LGBT legislation, religious freedom laws, Texas Freedom Network

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