Why the Respect Marriage Act is Key to LGBTQ Rights in Texas

WASHINGTON — The likely passage of a federal law legalizing same-sex marriage is a rare victory for LGBTQ Texans who feel they have been attacked by a Republican party that has made opposition to them part of its official platform.

The bill, which would strengthen marriage equality if the Supreme Court struck down the 2015 law The ruling establishing the right is expected to pass the Senate in the coming weeks, and is seen as a brief respite before a legislative session in Austin, where the GOP is lobbying against LGBTQ rights in a significant way.

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For Same-Sex Married Couples in Texas, Legislation Would Protect Family Health Care Plans, wills and more if the higher court reviewed its ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges.

Still, a recent court decision struck down LGBTQ protections against discrimination in the workplace, and advocates are bracing for another wave of legislation targeting that group.

Republican state lawmakers have already introduced more than 10 bills that would primarily affect LGBTQ Texans. They include measures aimed at gender-affirming care for transgender teens and continued efforts to limit classroom discussion about human sexuality, both of which will be priorities in the state Senate next year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said.

“The LGBT community has had some tough losses and we are being attacked in this really complex and layered way,” said Ricardo Martinez, executive director of Equality Texas, which advocates for LGBTQ rights. “It’s restorative for our spirits and for people who have been struggling with a news cycle that has been incredibly brutal.”

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The federal legislation is expected to have enough GOP support to pass, but all but one Texas Republican, US Rep. Tony Gonzales of San Antonio, has opposed it.

Texas Republicans Argue the Respect for Marriage Act does not do enough to protect religious freedom. And they say there is no need for the legislation when same-sex marriage has already been legalized by the Supreme Court.

“Zero evidence that Obergefell threatened,” tweeted US Senator John Cornyn, who voted to block the bill earlier this month. “However, the threat to religious liberty is a real and present danger with the Biden IRS.”

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US Senator Ted Cruz, who also voted to block the bill, said it is about “encouraging Biden’s IRS to target religious schools, churches and charities.”

Advocates say the federal law would be especially important in states like Texas, where laws still in place banning same-sex marriage and sodomy, despite Supreme Court rulings legalizing both. If the high court were to overturn the 2015 ruling on the marriage, as Judge Clarence Thomas suggested, federal law would protect the thousands of Texans in same-sex unions.

The bill would not force states like Texas to legalize same-sex marriage, but would require them to recognize legal marriage licenses issued in states where it is legal. State agencies and local governments would also have to recognize marriages.

“There are certainly continuing signs that some people in Texas would like to see the law go back to earlier days, when LGBTQ people had no legal protections and were sometimes subject to criminal prosecution,” said Jenny Pizer, legal director for Lambda Legal, a nonprofit group that advocates for your rights. “The Respect Marriage Act is particularly important to provide some protection, some really important protections, for people who live in states where we see that type of legal activity germinating.”

The legislation follows a series of recent court rulings in Texas that undermined LGBTQ rights in the workplace and access to health care. Earlier this month, a federal district judge ruled that the Biden administration cannot detain doctors to deny certain medical care based on a patient’s sexual orientation and gender identity. And last month, the same judge ruled that LGBTQ Texans can be fired from a job for the way they dress or the bathroom they use, and their employers are not required to use pronouns workers choose for themselves. .

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare agency to open child abuse investigations if parents provide their transgender children with gender-affirming care, such as hormone therapies and puberty blockers. LGBTQ advocates were quick to condemn the decision and have been fighting the directive in an ongoing court battle.

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The agency has opened 14 investigations into families of transgender children since February, said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the Department of Family and Protective Services.

Ten of the investigations have been closed, while the other four remain open. No children have been taken from their homes, she said.

LGBTQ Texans say they feel they were used as bait during an election season when Republicans like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick campaigned to block transgender youth from receiving that kind of attention, and when conservative activists attacked drag shows, saying they were inappropriate for children.

On the other hand, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton has argued that the use of gender-affirming drugs such as puberty blockers amounts to taking away a child’s constitutional right to procreate, especially when they are too young to consent. legally, and can result in physical and mental harm amounting to abuse.

The Texas Republican Party platform, adopted over the summer, labels homosexuality “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” The party has also repeatedly denied the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of LGBTQ conservatives, a seat at its convention.

State Rep. Steve Toth, R-Woodlands and a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has introduced at least three bills related to LGBTQ issues, including a Texas version of the Florida legislation that critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Florida law prohibits schools from teaching students in kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation and gender identity. Democrats and civil rights advocates have said the legislation marginalizes LGBTQ students and may dampen any discussion of sexuality in the classroom.

Toth House Bill 631 includes identical language to the Florida bill, except that its legislation would apply to students through fifth grade.

Patrick, the lieutenant governor, said earlier this year that the legislation would be a priority for him next session. Patrick has broad authority to set legislative agendas as president of the state Senate, which is known as the more conservative of the two chambers.

Last year, the state Legislature passed a bill preventing transgender children from competing on sports teams that align with their gender identity, which Abbott later signed into law. The Senate also passed bills banning gender-affirming care and creating religious exemptions for lawyers to deny service to LGBTQ Texans, but both measures failed in the House.

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Republicans have already introduced several bills that again aim to ban hormone therapies and puberty blockers for transgender youth. House Bill 436, authored by Frisco state Rep. Jared Patterson, would classify such treatments as child abuse, putting more weight behind Abbott’s directive to the child welfare agency.

Toth House Bills 41 and 122 would also hold doctors liable for administering such drugs to minors or performing gender reassignment surgeries, which are rarely used on young people. He likened his legislation to the age limits for buying alcohol or getting a tattoo.

Most major medical organizations support gender-affirming care, which is linked to reduced rates of suicide attempts, depression, and drug use.

Meanwhile, gay Texas Republicans say they believe they have made gains within the party, even if there is clearly a lot of work to be done, as evidenced by the Texas GOP’s opposition to the marriage bill.

“You want everyone to be on the same page and you want everyone to support your right to be who you are, but sometimes it takes convincing,” said Christopher Halbohn, chairman of the Harris County Log Cabin Republicans. “That’s part of how we see our role here in Texas: making headway with the Texas Republican Party and convincing people that we’re active.”

Halbohn said the group proved its worth during the midterms when it campaigned heavily for Republicans in Harris County. He said no candidate refused his endorsement or help knocking on doors.

He said the fact that 12 Senate Republicans were willing to support the federal legislation is a sign of broader changes within the party, even if Texas Republicans have yet to do so.

“It’s a really amazing time to be a Republican,” he said. “We definitely have a few more strides to make in the Texas Republican Party, but I think sometimes there is a strategy for that: show people that we agree on 90 percent of the issues that make us Republicans, so let’s get started. where we agree more and work to influence things so that people see our points.

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