Hundreds of somber Texans crowded into the senate chamber late Thursday to speak of love--gay and straight. Many sobbed and shed tears. Some joked about fidelity and the obligations of marriage as they lobbied for and against a proposed ban on same-sex marriages.
The senate state affairs committee prepared to hear hours of testimony about the proposed ban. A measure sponsored by Republican representative Warren Chisum and Republican senator Todd Staples seeks to add the ban to the Texas constitution. "It's important to protect the institution of marriage as it has been defined for thousands and thousands of years all across the globe by all societies," Staples said.
Texas law already prohibits same-sex marriages. The legislation aims to allow voters to decide whether to safeguard that law from judicial challenges by amending the state constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Gay rights advocates have criticized the measure, saying lawmakers ought to prioritize building up Texas families with public education and social services rather than discriminating against the state's 43,000 gay couples.
Karen Langsley, a lesbian lawyer from Dripping Springs, told the legislators she would prefer they spend their time deciding how to fund public education for her two children. "This is purely, purely a discriminatory constitutional amendment," Langsley said, her 10-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son by her side.
The measure requires 100 of 150 votes in the house and 21 of 31 votes in the senate as well as approval from a majority of Texas voters. The constitutional change won approval in the house with a vote of 101-29 last month, but gaining passage in the senate could be a little trickier.
On Monday, Democratic senator Rodney Ellis used a parliamentary maneuver to delay a scheduled committee debate. He questioned whether same-sex marriage is an issue legislators ought to be concerned with less than two weeks before the session ends, with many more pressing issues, like public school finance and the state budget, unresolved. The chairman of the committee, Republican senator Robert Duncan, said the group would likely vote on the measure Friday morning.
Despite support from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who leads the senate, the measure may face another obstacle to getting a vote from the full senate.
Democratic senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa said he and 10 other senators will block the legislation from coming to the floor for a vote. Senate rules require support from at least two thirds of the members before a measure can be debated.
But supporters of the legislation said safeguarding the traditional institution of marriage from judicial challenge is vital for the state.
During a 13-hour public hearing conducted in the house last month, only one person spoke in favor of the legislation. Thursday, about half of the first four hours of testimony came from those who support the ban. "[Straight marriage] is the model that has been proven successful throughout the ages," said Dianne Hensley of Concerned Women for America and Texas. She told the committee she worried for children in unstable homes where their parents might transmit diseases to them.
Don Zimmerman of the Republican Liberty Party of Texas said marriage in Texas and the nation is under attack. "There's a different kind of vigilante out there," Zimmerman told the committee. "It's a group that wears black robes and call themselves judges." (AP)