After the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling Friday that states cannot ban gay marriage, same-sex couples crowded into county clerks’ offices across Texas to obtain marriage licenses. And they piled into courthouses in search of judges who would marry them.
But on Monday, national and state gay rights leaders and the plaintiffs who sued for marriage equality convened in front of the Texas Capitol to make a different kind of vow: The fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is not over. The next frontier, they said, is pushing for more protections against discrimination in areas including employment and housing.
“In many states, including my home state of Ohio and right here in Texas, you can get married but then suffer consequences,” said Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark case that legalized same-sex marriage. “You can get married and then lose your job, lose your home and so much more because we are not guaranteed nondiscrimination protections. … Friday’s historic ruling is a victory, but it’s just the beginning.”
Obergefell was joined Monday by a coalition of from the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent LGBT civil rights organization; Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel of Austin; Equality Texas; two same-sex couples who filed suit over Texas’ same-sex marriage ban; and others who announced that they would be part of a statewide campaign for nondiscrimination protections.
Their announcement came a day after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a written opinion that county clerks in Texas who have religious objections to same-sex marriage can opt out of issuing such licenses, though they should be prepared to face fines or legal challenges.
Texas is a huge part of a national strategy to pursue nondiscrimination ordinances because it’s the largest state in the country that offers no statewide protections for LGBT residents, Equality Texas executive director Chuck Smith said Monday.
Democratic proposals for statewide nondiscrimination laws have been non-starters in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where conservatives have tried to override local ordinances. Among opponents of the nondiscrimination ordinances are Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who as the former state attorney general said such ordinances violate freedom of speech and religion.
This has left Texas with a patchwork of local protections against discrimination in employment, housing and other public areas like buses and restaurants.
At least nine Texas cities with a population of more than 100,000 have passed some nondiscrimination rules or legislation.
For at least a decade, cities like Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth have had ordinances offering LGBT residents some degree of protection against discrimination. Houston, San Antonio and Plano joined that list in the last two years.
As gay rights activists push for nondiscrimination protections, Republicans have vowed not to go down without a fight, proclaiming that the state’s next battlefront would be in defense of religious liberty.
"Our religious liberties find protection in state and federal constitutions and statutes," Paxton said in a statement Sunday on his written opinion. "While they are indisputably our first freedom, we should not let them be our last.”
On Monday, the gay rights activists took a swipe at Abbott and Paxton, saying that religious liberty could not be used to keep same-sex couples from legally marrying.
In defending the need for more protections for LGBT residents, Mark Phariss, one of the plaintiffs in the Texas gay marriage case, likened those protections to the Americans with Disabilities Act that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities like Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1984 accident.
At the time of his accident, Abbott was not protected against discrimination "as a result of that disability," said Phariss, who attended law school with Abbott and said he visited him in the hospital after his accident.
“That has been fixed. The ADA now provides protections for Americans who are disabled, just like Greg, from being discriminated against in their workplace and in public accommodations," Phariss said. "And that is the exact same protection that we seek for ourselves — nothing more, nothing less.“