Metro Weekly

Texas anti-gay measures and HIV criminalization bill fail

Senate instead approves resolution restating support for "one man and one woman" marriage

Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas (Credit: Daniel Mayer, via Wikimedia Commons.)
Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas (Credit: Daniel Mayer, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Despite some last-minute legal wrangling, the Texas legislature failed to pass several anti-gay measures as of the May 27 final deadline for passing any bills that lawmakers wish to see enacted into law.  This year’s legislative session ends on June 1. 

The Texas House of Representatives failed to pass a measure that would have prevented the recognition of same-sex marriages even if the Supreme Court decides to legalize marriage equality nationwide. The measure, which was added to a House bill dealing with local government operations, land use and zoning, and fees, mirrored a similar bill that failed to pass the legislature earlier in the session. It would have prohibited state employees or officials from issuing licenses, or from using funds to enforce any order requiring the issuance of a license for or recognition of a same-sex union. 

Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) inserted the language into the House bill on county governments, drawing the ire of the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), who vowed to defeat the bill if the language inserted by Lucio remained intact. Lucio later recalled his amendment, and the Senate instead voted on a resolution that reaffirms Texas’s opposition to same-sex marriage and support for “the present definition of marriage as being the legal union of one man and one woman as husband and wife” as defined by the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex nuptials. All 20 Senate Republicans and Lucio, an LGBT rights opponent, voted in favor of the resolution.

Following Lucio’s decision to remove the bill from consideration, Equality Texas, the Lone Star State’s top LGBT organization, posted a message to supporters on its website, saying, “Your advocacy worked!”

“Thanks to everyone who made calls opposing HB2977 with ‘Defy the Supreme Court language,’ Sen. Lucio removed the bill from consideration,” the post reads. “As an alternative, Senators passed a resolution — SR1028 — which carried the same weight as other resolutions they have recently passed including ‘Salad Day’ and ‘John Wayne Day.’ Let’s move on. Let’s all move on.”

In another anti-LGBT move, conservative lawmakers in the House tried to attach an amendment to a bill reorganizing the state Department of Family and Protective Services. That amendment would have allowed a “conscience clause” exemption for child welfare agencies who object to placing children with gay individuals or same-sex couples by protecting those agencies from threat of legal action. That amendment was eventually abandoned, and the House voted unanimously to approve it without any amendments.

The legislature also failed to approve an HIV criminalization bill, which would have allowed prosecutors to subpoena the medical records and HIV test results of defendants living with HIV if prosecutors believe that they intended to intentionally infect people. The measure would have protected anybody who releases or discloses a test result in response to a subpoena from any liability, either civil or criminal, or any professionally disciplinary action.

According to LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocates, the bill was unnecessary, as Texas law already allows law enforcement and public safety officials to conduct HIV testing on individuals when appropriate, but there are privacy measures to keep the tests confidential. The advocates claimed the bill would have allowed an HIV-positive test result to be subpoenaed and used in any criminal proceeding against a person who happens to live with HIV, and was subjective, based on the personal whims and discretion of individual prosecutors.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s top LGBT rights organization, worked with Legacy Community Health of Houston to oppose the HIV criminalization measure, saying revealing the results of an HIV test could potentially bias criminal proceedings, lead to enhanced privacy, and could discourage other people from getting tested for HIV for fear that a positive result would not be kept private and could be used against them.

“The defeat of SB 779 ensures that Texans living with HIV are not further stigmatized and penalized for their positive status,” Januari Leo, the director of public affairs with Legacy Community Health, said in a statement. “HIV is a public health issue that must be addressed through testing, treatment and prevention methods, not criminal prosecutions. HIV is neither a crime nor a death sentence.”

Other anti-gay bills met a similar fate this legislative session, often with the Senate approving the bill, but the more moderate House failing to pass such measures. But one bill that did pass this session was a measure protecting religious organizations, their employees, and pastors from having to solemnize marriages to which they personally object by citing religious opposition to that marriage. 

The bill also exempts those who refuse to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or other privileges for marriages that violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs” from legal action, and prohibits the state or local counties or cities from penalizing or withholding benefits or privileges such as tax exemptions, government contracts, grants or licenses, from organizations or individuals who refuse to provide services to same-sex couples. That measure has since been passed by both chambers and transmitted to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for his signature into law.

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