Bills Aim to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage in Texas

 Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, center, with his son Johnathan Weisfeld-Hinojosa and daughter, Kriselda Hinojosa.
Sen. Hinojosa
Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, center, with his son Johnathan Weisfeld-Hinojosa and daughter, Kriselda Hinojosa.

Kriselda Hinojosa recalls how she unintentionally came out to her father in sixth grade.

“He actually saw me kissing my girlfriend at the time,” Hinojosa said. “So he caught me, but he didn’t get upset. He never yelled at me or anything. He was always very open-minded. I’ve never heard him talk bad about the LGBT community.”

Over the years, the now-32-year-old Hinojosa said, her father’s acceptance has evolved into righteous indignation over the fact that his only daughter doesn’t have equal rights.  Two years ago, Hinojosa “eloped” to Las Vegas with her girlfriend for a same-sex commitment ceremony. When she returned to Texas, it hit home for her dad that their certificate means nothing in the eyes of the state.

In 2013, Hinojosa’s father, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), authored a bill to legalize civil unions in Texas. And on Father’s Day this year, he penned a heartfelt pro-equality letter to his daughter that was published in newspapers statewide.

On Monday, Sen. Hinojosa took his support a step further, introducing a bill to repeal Texas’ statutory ban on same-sex marriage on the first day of pre-filing for the 2015 legislative session. Hinojosa’s bill, SB 98, was one of several that were set to be filed that—if all were to pass—would have the combined effect of legalizing same-sex marriage in Texas pending a public vote.

“He says he’s proud of me, but I’m more proud of him,” Kriselda Hinojosa said. “He’s taking a risk, also, because he could actually lose supporters, but it doesn’t seem to phase him. He’s doing what he thinks is right.”

Hinojosa is also co-authoring a resolution with Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), SJR 13, that would overturn Texas’ constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, which was approved by 76 percent of voters in 2005. To pass, the amendment resolution would need a two-thirds majority in both chambers, as well as a simple majority at the ballot box.

Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), filed a companion to Hinojosa’s statutory repeal bill in the House, HB 130, while Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), filed a companion to Rodriguez’s resolution, HJR 34. The statutory repeal bills filed by Anchia and Hinojosa would have no impact unless and until the constitutional amendment is repealed.

LGBT advocates acknowledge that the marriage-equality bills’ chances of success are slim to none in the GOP-dominated Legislature. But their introduction on the first day of pre-filing, coordinated by Equality Texas, could help alter the tone in advance of a session in which the LGBT community is expected to be on the defensive.

The bills also amount to a significant show of support as the issue of same-sex marriage continues to wind its way through the federal courts—an antidote, if you will, to a court brief signed by 63 Texas Republican lawmakers earlier this year that linked same-sex marriage to incest and pedophilia.

That brief was filed by the Texas Conservative Coalition in support of Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott’s appeal of a federal judge’s February decision striking down Texas’ marriage bans as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Orlando L. Garcia stayed his decision, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court has scheduled oral arguments in January. However, it’s possible the U.S. Supreme Court will settle the issue before the 5th Circuit gets a chance to rule.

Last week, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans in four states, splitting with other circuit courts that have struck down similar laws. Attorneys for same-sex couples in the 6th Circuit plan to seek a review of the decision from the Supreme Court, which could issue a nationwide ruling that brings marriage equality to Texas as early as mid-2015.

Rep. Coleman, who’s filed bills to repeal Texas’ marriage amendment in every session since 2007, said Friday he’s optimistic that the high court will settle the issue once and for all.

“I have been fighting to repeal this ban ever since it passed in 2005, and it remains one of my highest priorities,” Coleman wrote. “The persistent advocacy from the LGBT community and allies have turned the tide in public opinion, and in this way we have already won: most Americans now support marriage equality (a huge turnaround in just a short period of time), and for the first time ever a recent poll found that more Texans support marriage equality than those who do not. Even the majority of young Republicans support marriage equality. When the Supreme Court has its say on this issue, it will do so in an environment that already supports marriage equality.”

Correction: The original story did not accurately reflect the authorship of the various bills. The post has been corrected. We regret the error.

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Published at 12:38 pm CST