Faith leaders from across Texas gathered Tuesday at the state Capitol, urging legislators to lift the state's ban on gay marriage and pass laws forbidding discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
While some cities — such as San Antonio, Houston and Plano — have recently passed ordinances that provide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people protections against discrimination in areas like employment and housing, the faith leaders said legislation is needed to ensure those rights statewide.
“I recognize, as a happily married straight man, that I am afforded legal and social protections that our LGBT members are still not allowed in many cases,” said the Rev. Eric Folkerth of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, to a crowd of more than 200 people gathered on the Capitol's north steps. “The idea that any of them would be discriminated against by state or local law is absolutely unacceptable.”
But the rally participants — who chanted, "We demand equality!" — are aware of the barriers they face in the Legislature. Proposals at the Capitol to prevent discrimination against LGBT people have failed for years.
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Although the state protects people from employment and educational opportunity discrimination based on age, sex, race, religion, national origin and disability, there is no statewide protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.
Following the event, advocates from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Unitarian communities visited legislative offices to spread a message they said was rooted in faith and Texas values.
“I think that we have heard a lot from the faith community, but we have only heard one side of the faith community,” said the Rev. Leslie Jackson, who came to the Capitol from the United Church of Christ in Houston to speak at the event. "There are Christians in this state that do support equality, but they are hearing from this other, dominant voice. There is another view that needs to be heard."
The group is pushing bills such as House Bill 70 by Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, which would bar discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation, and HB 130, by Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, which would repeal the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia ruled that Texas' ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional because it “violates plaintiffs’ equal protection and due process rights.” Garcia has put his ruling on hold while anticipating an appeal, leaving the ban in place while the state asks the higher courts to repeal his ruling.
Meanwhile, Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, has proposed a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 10, that takes aim at city nondiscrimination ordinances. Her proposal calls for asking voters to amend the state constitution to say that "government may not burden an individual's or religious organization's freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief." State Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas, has filed a similar measure, House Joint Resolution 55, though he has said it is not aimed at the city ordinances.
“I don't think change will come from this Legislature," the Rev. Brian Ferguson of San Marcos Unitarian Universalist Fellowship said at Tuesday's rally. "I think it will come on the federal level, from the legal system."