Defending Marriage & Religious Liberty: Where Is Texas?

“Texas has two weeks left to stand up for religious liberty.”

It sure didn’t take long to miss Rick Perry’s leadership in Texas.

As I have written here many times, there is a war waging against people of faith and the values we hold.  Nowhere is that more evident than the war on marriage that soon likely will culminate in another Supreme Court decree, this time declaring that marriage is something that it plainly is not.

But much more troubling than even the destruction of the nuclear family and the institution of marriage is the all-out assault on religious liberty underway by the anti-faith left and their corporate crony allies.  It’s apparently not enough to re-define marriage.  No – those who resist must be silenced and made to care and to conform.

It is at this moment that we would expect states to lead the fight for religious liberty and the constitution.  Thankfully and not surprisingly, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has stepped up to defend people of faith from the attacks, and has articulated the important principles clearly and with passion.  But with all due respect, where is Texas leadership?  Sadly, they are MIA.

Our first liberty is under assault.  If you dare to express your religious conviction about marriage, you will be told you are a bigot by someone not remotely grasping the irony of his own discrimination against you.  Pastor or Rabbi?  You must marry two men!  Private religious school?  Don’t teach the hatred of traditional marriage!  Cakebaker, photographer or wedding planner?  Perform or shut down!

This is the new world order.  If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than the Solicitor General of the United States.  Arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court in the marriage case a few weeks ago, he actually asserted (openly and without hesitation) that “it’s certainly going to be an issue” whether religious schools can keep 501(c)(3) tax exempt status if they teach the traditional definition of marriage.

Yet, in the face of this assault, the great state of Texas – supposed beacon for liberty in the nation – is sitting on its hands.  Why?  Hardly a soul in the entire Capitol Building is leading, and especially not Governor Greg Abbott.  Unfortunately, he has been essentially silent on the issue other than some half-hearted plugs for religious liberty generally once the issue heated up and a few comments in support of Pastor protection.  But no boots-on-the-ground, back room arm-twisting, big-speech giving leadership that we had become accustomed to from Gov. Rick Perry.

And in the vacuum, there has been a hodge-podge of bills, tweets, press releases, and other half-measures while Texas “leadership” shrugs and avoids fighting the massive Texas Business machine.   The result has been chaos.

Last night, a bill that was introduced by State Rep. Cecil Bell that would have forbidden public funds from being used to issue marriage licenses died a painful death at midnight (a deadline in the Texas Legislature).  While well intentioned, it never had a chance because 1) there has been no leadership on the issue generally, and 2) this bill was the wrong approach.  It would certainly be struck down if the Supreme Court decides (wrongly) that there is an equal protection right to non-traditional marriage, and it misses the actual fight – religious liberty.

On that front, the strongest leadership has come from 2nd term Texas State Rep. Scott Sanford for introducing a bill (HB 2567) to increase protections for Pastors, Priests, Rabbis and all members of the clergy to conduct marriages according to their beliefs.  After a great deal of work – and working with Texas Values to rally Pastors to engage – that bill was also picked up in the State Senate by Sen. Craig Estes (SB 2065).

With the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (kudos to him), the Senate bill was passed out with a vote of 21-9.  It sits in the Texas House right now awaiting a second chance after Sanford’s bill died in the Joe Straus-led House of Representatives.

The bill is far from passage given the total lack of leadership in Texas.  And the worst part is – it’s kind of a yawner anyway!  Of COURSE we should protect the clergy.  Isn’t that the babyist of baby steps?  New Hampshire took that step in 1992.  How is this difficult?  Yet it’s not even clear Texas will get that through – it may.

But even if it does (and I hope it does, and would congratulate Scott Sanford for making it happen), ok … then what?

Well, to his great credit, Sanford also introduced a bill that would protect organizations that provide adoption services from having to do so in a manner that violates their religious beliefs.  That’s awesome.  Only – the bill is on life support in the House, and the Senate companion is dead in committee with a Committee Chairman (Schwertner) sitting on the bill and not moving it.  That’s right – a great bill that would protect religious liberty for adoption providers is dying a slow death in a Republican State Senator’s Committee in Texas.  Good heavens.

But – ok, let’s assume Texas pulls a rabbit out of the hat and protects Pastors and Adoption organizations (and we all hope they do).  Ok … two baby steps!  Awesome – the great defenders of the Alamo are bursting with pride … while the cake baker, the wedding planner, the photographer, the bed and breakfast owner, the private religious school … all get persecuted for their beliefs because Texas leadership was all too gutless to do a damned thing about it.

There is an option to protect all Texans further under Texas law.  The law would get Texas closer to the spirit of the First Amendment – and you know what that law would look like?  Something like Bobby Jindal and his cohorts are talking about in Louisiana.  Will the business lobby howl in protest?  Of course.  They already are.  Should we care?  No.  Why are publicly held corporations that cannot have religious beliefs suppressing ours?

Texas has two weeks left to stand up for religious liberty.  Will Texas leaders totally fail (do nothing)?  Do the bare minimum (pass a Pastors protection bill that arguably just reinforced existing protections)?  Do a little better, but not much (pass the adoption protection bill)?  Or actually stand up for religious liberty as envisioned in the First Amendment (protect all Texans for exercising their closely held religious beliefs)?