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Gay Rights Bill Filed on Valentine’s Day

On Valentine's Day, state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, joined numerous lawmakers who have already filed bills that would extend rights to same-sex couples.

by Maurice Chammah, The Marshall Project
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State Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, filed a bill Thursday to permit same-sex couples to marry, calling it a "Valentine's Day gift to all Texans."

His measure is one of several bills filed recently that deal with gay rights issues.

State Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, filed Senate Bill 538, which would take the term "homosexual conduct" out of the penal code.

In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Texas laws banning sodomy were unconstitutional. Though such laws cannot be enforced anymore, some are still technically on the books. Rodríguez's bill would nix the part of the Texas Penal Code that lists "homosexual conduct" as a misdemeanor crime. Similar bills filed in 2011 were unsuccessful.

Rodríguez also filed a resolution to amend the Texas constitution and allow same-sex marriage. "The time has come to put Texas in the mainstream of American values. The simple fact is that the government should not stand in the way of people who want to enjoy the legal rights and privileges of marriage that the rest of us enjoy," he said in a statement, pointing to a 2009 incident in El Paso that he said suggested lingering confusion over the penal code provision. Two men who kissed one another were kicked out of a restaurant by guards. When they called the police, an officer told them they could be cited for "homosexual conduct."

Burnam's House Bill 1300 would extend the benefits of marriage to same-sex couples, including property and homestead rights, child custody and support, adoption, and workers’ compensation benefits. Lawmakers who have signed on as co-authors include Democratic state Reps. Mary González, Ana Hernandez Luna, Donna Howard, Eddie Lucio III, Alfonso "Poncho" Nevarez, Mark Strama, Chris Turner, Armando Walle and Gene Wu. A similar bill, SB 480, allowing civil unions, was filed by state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

For HB 1300 to take effect, Texas voters would have to vote to repeal a 2005 amendment to the Texas Constitution that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Resolutions to put the repeal up for a vote have been filed by Rodríguez (SJR 29) and state Reps. Rafael Anchia (HJR 77) and Garnet Coleman (HJR 78).

A poll conducted by The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas last year found that 36 percent of those asked said they would allow same-sex couples to marry and 33 percent said they would allow civil unions but not marriage. Twenty-five percent said such couples should have neither the right to marry nor to form civil unions.

“The increasing public support for the freedom to marry in Texas is yet another sign that equal recognition of loving, committed couples is a mainstream Texas value,” Chuck Smith, the executive director of Equality Texas, said in a statement.

Gov. Rick Perry has opposed same-sex marriage in the past, and one conservative group said the laws aren't likely to change any time soon. "We've seen these bills fild before. I don't think anyone thinks there's a chance of them moving," said Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values. "A marriage between a man and a woman continues to be the strongest social institution and place to raise children."

As for the repeal of the penal code section dealing with "homosexual conduct," Saenz said, "People are already aware of the Supreme Court decision. I don't think it's going to go anywhere."

Burnam marked the filing with a video:

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