The Texas Senate gave tentative approval Monday to legislation that would protect pastors and religious organizations from being penalized for refusing to serve same-sex weddings, and a final vote is expected today, along with one on an identical bill in the House.
The vote came largely along party lines, with one Democrat joining Republicans to approve the measure by a tally of 21-10, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The legislation, Senate Bill 2065, advanced out of a Senate committee last week after a hearing marked by virulently antigay rhetoric, with some conservative witnesses claiming Christians were being bullied and subjected to hate crimes.
Republicans say the bill would protect only clergy and houses of worship that have objections to same-sex marriage -- groups already protected by the U.S. Constitution -- but Democrats say it's so broad that it would allow for widespread antigay discrimination. They point out that "a clause protecting groups supervised and controlled by a religious organization would seem to allow for-profit health care, nursing home and other companies to refuse to serve same-sex couples," the American-Statesman notes.
Democrats sought to add clarifying language to the bill, but Republicans turned back that attempt, the paper reports. The bill's opponents also questioned why the legislation was necessary at all.
Democratic Sen. John Whitmire said it was "unheard of" that a same-sex couple would try to force a nonsupportive clergy member to perform their wedding, The Texas Tribune reports. "They just want to be left alone to love their partner," he said. "They want to get married with clergy in a setting that embraces that union."
The legislation's author, Sen. Craig Estes, said it was not intended to enable discrimination, and he dismissed concerns that it would do so. Also, it "will not limit or have any impact regarding who can apply for a government marriage license," the American-Statesman quotes him as saying.
Today, however, the Texas House will begin debate on a bill that would have such impact, effectively maintaining the state's ban on same-sex marriage no matter how the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer. This measure, HB 4105, "would prohibit any government employee in Texas from issuing a same-sex marriage license and bar state or local tax money from being spent to 'enforce or recognize' same-sex marriages, even those legally performed in another state," the American-Statesman reports.
This story is developing. Check back for updates.