Texas Values President Jonathan Saenz, clockwise from left, Rep. Cecil Bell, Texas Pastor Council Executive Director Dave Welch, Rep. Rick Miller and his wife, Babs Miller, confer after Wednesday's committee hearing.
If this was their last meaningful opportunity to put on a show for state legislators, opponents of same-sex marriage made the most of it.
Fifteen witnesses, including a who’s who of anti-LGBT activists in Texas, testified Wednesday in support of a proposal to bar state or local funds from being used “for an activity that includes the licensing or support of same-sex marriage.”
They invoked Nazi Germany and the Civil War, warned of the imminent demise of American civilization, compared gays to murderers and advocated defiance of a likely U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in June.
“It’s not marriage—it’s a mirage, it’s a counterfeit, it’s a lie,” said Dr. Steve Hotze, president of the Conservative Republicans of Texas. “It will never be a marriage no matter what they say, because it violates God’s standards, and he sets the standards.”
Rep. Sylvester Turner (D-Houston), a member of the House Committee on State Affairs, grilled Hotze about whether he wants Texas to ignore “the law of the land” if the high court rules in favor of marriage equality.
“If you passed a law that we’re going to go and round up people of an ethnic group and put them into jail and exterminate them, would you abide by that law?” Hotze responded. “What did they do in Nazi Germany? It was legal to round up Jews and put them in the chambers and kill them. And the defense they said is, that was the law.”
After Turner suggested all people should be treated equally regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation, Hotze said there’s a difference because being gay is a choice.
“If people are involved in an activity that’s immoral and wrong, you can love them but you don’t respect what they do, and you try to help them find a way out,” Hotze said. “Whether they’re alcoholics, whether they’re murderers, whether they’re adulterers, whether they’re perverts or pornographers or whatever, you want to help them out—or homosexuals, you want to help them out.”
Nine people testified against the bill during a two-hour hearing that ran past 10 p.m., including Guadalupe County Clerk Teresa Kiel, who serves as legislative chair for the County and District Clerks’ Association of Texas.
Under House Bill 4105, by Reps. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) and Drew Springer (R-Muenster), county clerks would send fees collected for marriage licenses to the state comptroller’s office, along with documentation of the couple’s identity. The comptroller would remand $30 from each license to the county clerk, unless it was issued to a same-sex couple, in which case the money would be deposited in the state’s general revenue fund.
Kiel said she was “confused” and “troubled” by the bill, noting it’s already illegal for clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“As an elected official, I took an oath to uphold the laws of the state of Texas,” Kiel told the committee. “If the law is already in existence, what are we trying to do?”
Daniel Williams, legislative director for Equality Texas, said HB 4105 is a “nifty” way to increase state revenue. He said if a federal court declares the state’s marriage ban unconstitutional, many of the bill’s provisions would be struck down, too.
“So when I look at the bill, my question becomes what does it actually wind up doing, and the answer is it adds another level of bureaucracy in Austin … and I have trouble believing there’s any Texan who believes that’s a good idea,” Williams said.
Bell maintained HB 4105, which replaces a similar bill derailed amid budgetary concerns two weeks ago, would have no fiscal impact. And he said it would not adversely affect county clerks as long as they don’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
“I just want to be clear that I do respect people and I do love people, but that doesn’t negate law,” Bell told the committee in closing. “HB 4105 simply asserts the sovereign rights of Texas, using the legislative process, to codify marriage in Texas as one man and one woman, and to make certain that our dollars are used the way Texans want them to be.”
Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), chair of the committee, left the bill pending. Earlier, Cook told the Observer he was unsure whether he’ll call it back up for a vote.
“What we try to do in State Affairs is give folks an opportunity to weigh in on the issues that are important to them,” Cook said. “We hear a lot of bills that need a lot of thought, and this is one of them.”
At least 12 anti-LGBT bills have been referred to Cook’s committee, more than half the record number introduced in the 84th Legislature. Cook made headlines recently when he came out in support of same-sex couples’ right to have both names on the birth certificates of adopted children.
Asked about backlash from major corporations over an anti-LGBT religious freedom law in Indiana, Cook noted that a similar proposal died in State Affairs two years ago.
“I think we’ve done a good job of being measured,” he said.
HB 4105 has 37 co-authors, all Republicans.