As some states across the U.S. approve same-sex marriage by voters or legislatures, many are asking when conservative Texas will move forward on the issue. Several lawmakers filed bills this week that can be seen at least symbolic victories of progress.
In 2005, Texas voters approved a ban on same-sex partnerships, marriages and civil unions with 76 percent approving the ban. The resolution was known was Proposition II. A couple years before that, in 2003, a bill by former state Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio passed the legislature altering the Texas Family Code limiting the union to one man and one woman; what was known as the Texas Defense of Marriage Act.
Times have changed
Democrats in this session of the state legislature are making attempts to repeal both of these laws. On Thursday, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed House Bill 1300, which alters the family code to once again to allow same-sex couples to marry. Burnam said opinions in Texas have changed over the past ten years.
"I think a whole lot of people understand that this is a fundamental civil right and a social economic justice issue and it’s time that we join the rest of the country in moving forward to provide these people the same protections of the law that the rest of us have," he said.
Hinojosa's bill also alters the family code and grants the same rights as marriage under the term 'civil union.' He said he used the different term out of respect to religious institutions.
"A lot of churches do not recognize gay people - gay couples - for whatever reason, maybe for religious beliefs, but the reality is what gay couples want is to have the opportunity to also enjoy life and enjoy family," Hinojosa said. "When you look at reality you have a lot of gay couples who have raised children that they adopted and do much better job than a lot of heterosexual couples do in raising their children that are natural."
Even the introduction is a step
Gay rights groups are pleased to see the introduction of legislation like this. Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said he believes that since the legislature introduced the bills times and public opinion have changed.
"Why these are landmark is that I think that they represent the turning of the tide," Smith said. "They represent the reality that 2013 is not the same as 2005 when Texas voters last had the opportunity to cast a ballot to express where they stood on this issue. Much has changed throughout the rest of the country and that change has also taken place in Texas."
Over the two, Smith said the ideal law would be the marriage bill, but he did say the bills are not likely to pass this session.
In defense of marriage
Conservative group Texas Values doesn’t think so either, President Jonathan Saenz said the current marriage ban is no different than the state’s other bans on marriage.
"We limit the amount of people that you can be married to, to one, we limit the fact that you can’t be married to someone else before you get married and we limit people from marrying someone that’s a particular relative," Saenz said. "The way we have the law now is there are other limits and this is just one of the other ones that folks on the other side are not happy about, but the law couldn’t be more clear."
Where it goes from here
If either the civil unions or marriage bill passes, the family code would be altered, but with the 2005 marriage amendment in place, the wording would be made null and void.
There are currently at least two joint resolutions in the House and one in the Senate calling for the repeal of the constitutional amendment. A bill would have to pass both chambers, be signed by the governor and then be approved by the voters of Texas to become law.
An October poll from the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune shows that 69 percent of Texas voters would favor either same-sex marriage or civil unions.
House Joint Resolutions calling for Prop II Repeal:
- HJR 77 by Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas.
- HJR 78 by Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston.
Senate Joint Resolution calling for Prop II Repeal: