The Brief: Top Texas News for March 26, 2013

The Big Conversation

One of the biggest Supreme Court cases in years has cast a cloud of uncertainty over the fate of gay marriage bans still in place throughout most of the country, including Texas.

Today the Supreme Court will take up the first of two major gay marriage cases before the court this week. In the first case, which has generated more attention, the justices will hear arguments over whether California's Proposition 8 — which voters passed in 2008 to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman — violates the U.S. Constitution.

A decision isn't expected until the end of June, but court watchers already say the justices will likely rule one of five ways — the most sweeping of which would effectively overturn all gay marriage bans nationwide, including Texas' own constitutional prohibition, which voters approved in 2005 by a 76-24 margin.

Social conservatives say such a decision would overrule the will of Texas voters, as well as that of the roughly 40 states that have banned gay marriage by statute or constitutional amendment since 2000. One such conservative, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, has signed two amicus briefs asking the court to uphold Proposition 8.

"We’ve seen people go to the ballot box to express themselves on this issue," Jonathan Saenz, president of the conservative group Texas Values, told the Austin American-Statesman. "For the Supreme Court to reach down and tell Texas what to do on this issue, for five justices essentially to decide for 26 million Texans, is outrageous."

Saenz, as well as Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, are scheduled to speak at the Texas Faith and Family Day rally at the Capitol today.

Though some gay rights advocates fear that such a 50-state ruling could give rise to a long-term backlash, like the one that followed 1973's Roe v. Wade ruling, others say the speed with which public opinion has shifted on gay rights could translate to a broad ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.

Still, most court observers expect the justices to pursue a narrower decision that would pertain only to California or to the eight states that allow civil unions. (Check out out a flowchart of the possible rulings here.)

The other case, which the justices will hear Wednesday, questions the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which allows the federal government to withhold benefits from same-sex married couples in states that have legalized such unions.

Arguments in the first case begin this morning at 9 a.m. Central. Audio recordings of the proceedings will be released later in the afternoon.

Culled

•    Whitmire target of new prison death threat (Austin American-Statesman): "Authorities confirmed Monday afternoon they are investigating a tip that a violent prison gang was plotting to kill state Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston lawmaker who heads the Senate committee that oversees the prison system. No charges have yet been filed in the case that was opened last Tuesday when an informant inside a Texas prison alerted authorities that the Mexican Mafia gang had targeted Whitmire to be gunned down at a Mexican restaurant where he often has lunch."

•    Rand Paul and Ted Cruz threaten filibuster on guns (Politico): "Sens. Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are threatening to filibuster gun-control legislation, according to a letter they plan to hand-deliver to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office on Tuesday. 'We will oppose the motion to proceed to any legislation that will serve as a vehicle for any additional gun restrictions,' the three conservatives wrote in a copy of the signed letter obtained by POLITICO."

•    Craft brewers have 'good day' in Texas Senate (Houston Chronicle): "The Texas Senate voted Monday to give craft brewers and brewpubs new opportunities to sell their beer. 'To see that happen was amazing,' said Scott Metzger, a San Antonio brewpub owner who worked with other brewers, legislators and wholesalers in negotiating a compromise."

•    Legislator: Regent Behavior "Inconsistent" With Statute (The Texas Tribune): "The Texas Education Code lays out the state's expectations for regents of public university systems, and state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, is now questioning whether the University of Texas System board is living up to them."

•    Austin schools to offer insurance benefits to domestic partners (Austin American-Statesman): "The Austin school district plans to extend health insurance benefits to domestic partners, months after the Pflugerville school district made history by becoming the first in the state to do so. Beginning Sept. 1, the Austin district will provide insurance benefits to same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual couples. The additional benefits are expected to cost the district about $600,000."

Quote of the Day: "Did I take it seriously? Hell, yeah. I always take death threats seriously." — State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, to the Statesman on receiving word that a prison gang may have been plotting to kill him

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