A New Session, A New Push For LGBT-Friendly Laws In Austin

Republicans no longer have a super-majority in the House and Senate, but they are still firmly in control.  Bills that favor the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered, or LGBT, community typically don’t make it out of committee. 

Democratic State Representative Garnet Coleman of Houston regularly sponsors gay-friendly legislation.  He says one way he works around the committee blockade is to turn those measures into amendments to larger bills.

"That actually gets the language in the bill and gets people voting for the language on the House floor.  Now they strip it out in the conference committee on the budget.  However, we have people on record.  And as people are on record voting for-or-against, that allows people to go to their legislator and say 'why did you vote against that?'"

Representative Coleman plans to introduce or co-sponsor at least five LGBT bills this session.  Those measures include outlawing employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. 

There's also a proposal to allow Texans to vote again on the 2005 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.  Another bill Coleman is sponsoring would strike down the state's sodomy law.  The U.S. Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional nearly ten years ago.

"It's still on the books because people who believe otherwise would rather have it on the books and fight against removing it as a badge of honor or victory that we can't get it off the books."

Representative Coleman says he hopes recent polls reflecting quickly-changing attitudes on LGBT matters will persuade some of his more moderate Republican colleagues to support his bills.  We contacted a number of GOP lawmakers to get their perspective.  Those who responded said they had not read the actual bills and, therefore, wouldn't comment.

Republican political activists who happen to be gay say they’re getting support, albeit behind closed doors, from GOP lawmakers.

“I've been pleasantly surprised how straightforward they've been — as politicians."

Michael Baker is president of the Houston chapter of Log Cabin Republicans.  He says his group will focus its lobbying energy on committee chairs — the ones with the power to allow LGBT bills to proceed to the floor. 

He’s hoping that task will be easier this session, because lawmakers aren’t grappling with a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall, as they did two years ago.

“Survival’s number one.  That’s putting food on the table, and everything else.  And that’s getting jobs in Texas.  It looks like we’re not that bad off, okay.  We’re doing that.  So, all these social issues — some of them may be able to come to the front.  So I’m optimistic about that this time around.”

Baker doesn’t expect lawmakers this session to approve a statewide employment non-discrimination act, or to put the marriage amendment up to another popular vote.  But he believes chances are good that the sodomy law will be eradicated.  And he’s optimistic lawmakers could approve a change that would allow both partners in a same-sex adoption to put their names on their child’s birth certificate.

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