On the eve of a federal appeals court hearing in a lawsuit challenging Texas’ same-sex marriage bans, a Republican legislator has introduced a bill that would prohibit county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses.
HB 623 would amend the Texas Family Code to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for the “the licensing or support of same-sex marriage.” It would also bar government employees from recognizing, granting or enforcing same-sex marriage licenses. Any government employee who violates the provision would be barred from collecting “a salary, pension, or other employee benefit.”
HB 623 would also require Texas courts to dismiss challenges to the law and award attorneys’ fees to defendants. And it would grant Texas sovereign immunity under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when it comes to enforcing the law, “regardless of a contrary federal court ruling.”
“When I was elected, I made a promise to my constituents to fight to protect our traditional values and to stand strong in the defense of our constitutional rights as Texans and Americans,” Bell said in a release. “Texas is a sovereign state and our citizens have the right to define marriage. We as Texans voted in 2005 to define marriage as being solely between a man and a woman. In Texas marriage is sacred and traditional families are recognized as the fabric of our society.”
Bell said he was “disappointed, to say the least” when U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia struck down Texas’ marriage bans as unconstitutional last February.
“The 10th Amendment protects the right of Texas to pass Prop 2 [the 2005 marriage amendment],” Bell said in the release. “With the 84th Session around the corner, Texas will stand up and defend its constitutional right against federal overreach.”
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Friday in the state’s appeal of Garcia’s ruling.
Daniel Williams, legislative specialist for Equality Texas, told the Observer that Bell’s assertion that Texas can ignore federal law is “preposterous.”
“To then turn around and threaten the pensions, benefits and jobs of state employees for just doing their jobs is abhorrent,” Williams said. “It’s buying a lawsuit for the state.”
With the session set to begin Jan. 13, Williams said it’s too early to predict whether Bell’s bill has a chance of passing.
“It’s certainly far outside the mainstream, but it’s something we’ll be watching very carefully,” Williams said. “The Legislature can always pass unconstitutional laws, and then it’s litigated in the courts. I’m guessing Cecil Bell wants to make sure Ken Paxton has plenty of work to do in his new job as attorney general.”
Equality Texas is predicting a defensive session for the LGBT community, due to backlash from the spread of marriage equality to 36 states and counting. HB 623 is at least the third piece of anti-LGBT legislation that’s been pre-filed for the session. The first two took the form of proposed constitutional amendments that would grant businesses a “license to discriminate” against same-sex couples.