Another Important Step in Our Campaign to Stop Discrimination in Texas

by Dan Quinn

Our campaign to stop discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans took another important step forward today. Along with our partners at Equality Texas and the ACLU of Texas, we stood with the state’s major business organization as well as a number of lawmakers at a Capitol press conference warning the Legislature against passing 20 bills promoting anti-LGBT discrimination. Here’s our joint press release with Equality Texas and the ACLU of Texas:

Texas lawmakers and the head of the Texas Association of Business joined with civil liberties organizations today in warning against bills filed this year that promote discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Texans, arguing that our state risks a backlash similar to that seen in Indiana and Arkansas.

Speaking at a Texas Capitol press conference this morning, Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, spoke on behalf of legislators worried about at least 20 bills that would allow, promote or even require discrimination against LGBT Texans. Bill Hammond, president of the conservative Texas Association of Business, joined the legislators to emphasize business opposition to such discrimination. Representatives from Equality Texas, the Texas Freedom Network and the ACLU of Texas also expressed legal and civil liberties concerns.

Ellis voted for the state’s existing Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Legislature passed with an overwhelming bipartisan majority in 1999. That bill protects religious liberty from government overreach while including provisions to ensure that civil rights protections against discrimination aren’t undermined. The 20 proposed bills in Texas this year, on the other hand, are unnecessary for protecting religious freedom and would allow, and sometimes even require, discrimination or harm to others, Ellis said.

“These bills allow people to be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, denied public services the rest of us take for granted, and even turned into criminals simply because of who they are and whom they love,” Ellis said. “The Texas I love is better than that. This debate isn’t about businesses not serving someone they might object to, as that minimizes the seriousness of what’s at stake here.”

Rep. Anchia warned that the proposed bills would undermine or even sweep away nondiscrimination ordinances put in place in major cities across the state – including his hometown of Dallas.

“By undoing these protections, the Legislature would be sending a message that local control isn’t as important as some of my colleagues have long said that it is,” Anchia said. “They would be saying to the rest of the country that discrimination against our neighbors, our friends, our family members is more important. My own city and many others across the state have decided against that kind of discrimination, and the Legislature shouldn’t undermine our cities’ economic well being or our citizens’ civil liberties.”

The message to the rest of the country particularly concerns business leaders, said Bill Hammond, chief executive officer of the Texas Association of Business. TAB has not taken positions on all of the bills but does oppose the proposed constitutional amendments, SJR 10 and HJR 125. The two amendments are similar to “religious refusal” bills in Indiana and Arkansas that prompted major companies and organizations to withdraw plans to expand or hold major events in those states.

“Either of these two amendments would bring the same backlash to Texas,” Hammond said. “They also would lead to potentially enormous litigation costs, hurt our efforts to attract businesses and tourism dollars that keep our economy growing, and make it harder for employers to enforce laws and company policies barring discrimination against their workers and customers. Texas is a magnet for new businesses, talent and visitors. This legislation would immediately threaten our solid brand.”

Taken together, the proposed 20 bills would allow individuals and organizations to use religion to justify discrimination against LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. The bills (www.tfn.org/discriminationbills) can be grouped into four broad categories:

  • Six bills, including the two proposed constitutional amendments, would allow businesses, government workers and other individuals to use religion to justify discrimination.

  • Five bills would sweep away nondiscrimination protections passed by municipal and other local governments.

  • Six bills openly seek to subvert any court ruling that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.

  • Three bills would turn transgender people into criminals if they use a restroom that is appropriate to their gender identity. They would also turn employers and building managers essentially into bathroom police who must — under threat of fines and criminal prosecution — verify the gender of individuals using their restrooms.

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Chuck Lindell

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