By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
HOUSTON — Just a week before the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, Texas lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill in committee that would bar state or local funds from being used to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.
Texas already bans same-sex marriage, but that’s being challenged in federal court.
Last year, a federal judge here ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages was unconstitutional, but put his ruling on hold while the state appealed.
That appeal is pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which heard oral arguments in January but is expected to wait to issue its ruling until after the Supreme Court acts.
The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments Tuesday on challenges to same-sex marriage bans in four other states.
The Texas proposal passed by a House committee Wednesday was one of several this legislative session targeting same-sex marriage, the first to clear a committee, according to the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based group that describes itself as monitoring the “religious right.”
The Republican-backed legislation to bar state or local funds from being used to issue same-sex marriage licenses passed by a 7-3 vote along party lines.
The proposal’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Cecil Bell Jr., said it “asserts the sovereignty of Texans,” especially “in the event that we do see a Supreme Court ruling that in some form or fashion compels the spending of Texans’ dollars in a way that Texans do not want it spent.”
“I’m just not willing to see Texas sovereignty compromised,” said Bell, a contractor from Magnolia, a Houston bedroom community, who described himself as “a very conservative individual in a very conservative district.”
Bell said he has been speaking with fellow lawmakers in the state House and Senate and is optimistic the proposal will pass.
While other states have legalized gay marriage, he noted that many have done so as a result of court rulings, while Texans voted to pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in 2005.
“We are a nation made up of sovereign states, and we retain that sovereignty,” Bell said, quoting Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the importance of states’ rights. Kennedy is expected by some to be the swing vote in the same-sex marriage case.
Same-sex marriage advocates in Texas condemned Bell’s proposal on Wednesday.
“Beyond being unconstitutional, this bill gives Texas an Indiana-style bad name,” said Christina Gorczynski, campaign director for Texas Wins, a same-sex advocacy group, referring to the firestorm of criticism ignited by Indiana’s adoption of a religious freedom law last month that critics said would allow discrimination against gays.
Gorczynski called the Texas proposal “blatant discrimination, which is bad for business and our reputation nationwide.”
The proposal now heads to a committee that schedules legislation for debate by the full House, which remains in session until June.
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