Texas Matters is a Monday evening series focusing on Texas political news while sharing information and strategies with the aim of taking back our state.In Texas Matters a few weeks ago, I profiled a struggle for basic LGBT anti-discrimination protections in San Antonio. The proposed ordinance would add sexual orientation and gender identity (as well as veteran status) to existing law barring discrimination in public accommodations and employment. Well, good news came earlier this month in the form of an 8-to-3 vote in favor of the ordinance. San Antonio, above the weeping and wailing of the Religious Right and socially conservative politicians like Elisa Chan, became the latest city to extend basic protections to LGBT people that should have been extended decades ago. And it now stands as a shining example here in Texas, where state law allows for LGBT people to be fired just for being who they are. (Are you paying attention, Mayor Parker? San Antonio beat the city with the lesbian mayor to the punch on this issue, which should be more than a little embarrassing.)
This sign of progress is much to the dismay of anti-gay public officials like Attorney General Greg Abbott who mentally reside in the 1950s and long for the days of the Lavender Scare.
And Abbott, who hopes to be Slick's successor in the Governor's Mansion, pitched quite the fit about the dangerous slide toward basic equality and fairness here in Texas. Citing a provision in the proposed ordinance that mentioned discriminatory "word or deed," Abbott's office came out with a blistering threat of a lawsuit against San Antonio for persecuting good Christians exercising their God-given right to hate gay people.
Religious expression is guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and this ordinance is also contrary to the clearly expressed will of the Texas Legislature. Although the proposal has been couched in terms of liberty and equality, it would have the effect of inhibiting the liberty of expression and equality of opportunity for San Antonians.The San Antonio City Council removed the phrase in question when they passed the ordinance, thus ending any controversy. Right? No, of course not, because constitutionality was never a reason to oppose the ordinance. And now, while Abbott's office praises the move by the City Council to strike the phrasing, Abbott still doesn't seem to quite know what to do about San Antonio. So he's now promising to "review the ordinance" and "monitor the situation."
In a statement, Lauren Bean, Abbott's deputy communications director, praised city leaders for removing the language that many felt to be in violation of the Texas and U.S. Constitutions.
"We are pleased the city council heeded our advice and deleted this provision, which surely would have been grounds for a constitutional challenge to the ordinance," Bean said.
"We will continue to review the ordinance and monitor the situation," she said.
The question comes to mind: "Review" and "monitor" what, exactly? San Antonio's perfectly legal decision to ban discrimination based on immutable characteristics, a decision supported by a growing body of law? Really, Mr. Abbott?
Burnt Orange Report hits the nail on the head when it comes to the extremely shaky legal ground Abbott is standing on when it comes to his disdain for the San Antonio ordinance:
It's not clear precisely what the Attorney General's office is going to monitor. Government entities are free to establish that they will not discriminate against persons on the basis of immutable characteristics - such as race, ethnicity, or gender. They're even free to prohibit discrimination on the basis of characteristics that are not immutable - such as religion. In fact, in any of these cases, not only are they allowed to declare that a city and its employees will not discriminate on such bases, they are constitutionally prohibited from actually engaging in that discrimination.I don't necessarily think Abbott is a stupid man. He obviously knows he's on the losing side here, and he's clearly attempting to appeal to his base of wild-eyed fundamentalists who not only want to be able to fire gay people, but who want to see sodomy statutes enforced.
Religion, race, ethnicity, and gender are part of protected classes - groups of people that constitutional jurisprudence has seen fit to protect from the historical demons that have haunted us as a nation. Sexual orientation and gender identification, however, are not yet protected classes under constitutional law, though the movement to make them so is gaining traction, and a growing body of law supports this position.
In the meantime, however, while the law is not yet well-settled and few - if any - court mandates necessarily command (or prohibit) public officials to accept the LGBT community as a protected class, then how an official interprets his duties or rights under the law betrays less his fealty to the law than his personal preferences - the very problem San Antonio's ordinance was designed to defeat. A person who obstructs laws designed to halt discrimination against a disenfranchised and alienated class of their fellow citizens does so not under the protection of the law but under the impulse of personal belief or an eye to certain constituents.
But this is the same Greg Abbott who declared all local domestic partnership laws in Texas to be unconstitutional and whose office is currently fighting against same-sex divorce before the Texas Supreme Court. This Greg Abbott has no problem standing on shaky legal ground in order to launch attacks on any attempt to make life for LGBT people better in Texas. And we're once again reminded of the choice we face in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Texans overwhelmingly support extending basic fairness in the workplace and public accommodations to LGBT people. Abbott's bizarre, antiquated conservative agenda when it comes to individual freedom just doesn't square with the kind of Texas the majority of Texans want.
Greg Abbott and Texas Republicans represent a monumental leap backward--in more ways than just LGBT rights. And we need to drive that point home with our Texan friends, family, and neighbors again and again if we want to see this state flip sooner rather than later.
Texas Diary Round-Up (9/17/2013 - 9/23/2013)
VoteRiders: Houston Call to Action: VoteRiders Voter ID Clinic this Saturday (9/17/2013)
Laura Clawson: Texas anti-abortion law was not about women's health, records show (9/17/2013)
Deja Vu: Wendy Davis Sets Announcement Date! (9/18/2013)
Renewable Rider: If Movement Fails to Draw the Line Against Keystone XL in TX & OK, We All Flunk the Climate Test (9/18/2013)
pipsorcle: TX-Gov: Wendy Davis May Be Close to Launching Gubernatorial Bid in Texas in 2014 (9/18/2013)
marykmusic: Woodie Guthrie: Activist (9/18/2013)
The Sheeping of America: Tom Delay Conviction Overturned (Whaaaat) (9/19/2013)
TDDVandy: TX-GOV: A longshot, but not hopeless. (9/19/2013)
poopdogcomedy: TX-Gov: EMILY's List Builds Support For A Wendy Davis (D) Gubernatorial Bid (9/20/2013)
TexasLeftist: The Parker Legacy (9/20/2013)
Tara the Antisocial Social Worker: This week in the War on Women: 9-21-13 (9/21/2013)
Egberto Willies: Even In Texas The Republican Caricature Of Obamacare Is Meeting Reality (9/22/2013)
swrussel: Should Texas Rule Japan? (9/23/2013)
Got more Texas news stories or action alerts? Share them in the comments!