The Fifth Circuit will take up marriage equality cases from Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi Friday, and despite being a conservative panel, the judges could rule in favor of marriage equality. In the event that happens, one Texas lawmaker has an alternative plan for the marriage ban: make it illegal — essentially a punishable crime — for clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
State Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. (R) has introduced HB 623, the “Texas Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act.” It would prohibit the use of taxpayer funds (including governmental salaries) for the licensing of same-sex marriage, and any employee who violates this restriction would no longer be allowed to collect “a salary, pension, or other employee benefit.”
The bill also prohibits public funding to “enforce a court order” requiring the issuance of a same-sex marriage license. In other words, if a federal court ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses, this law would still prohibit the only people empowered to issue those licenses from doing so.
Bell included in his bill a provision attempting to immunize the would-be law from any legal action in state court, guaranteeing,”A court of this State shall dismiss a legal action challenging a provision of this section and shall award costs and attorney ’s fees to a person or entity named as a defendant in the legal action.” Of course, it could then be challenged in federal court, where it would likely be overturned.
Like many anti-equality conservatives, Bell rejects the possibility that the U.S. Constitution protects same-sex couples from unequal treatment. “Texas is a sovereign state and our citizens have the right to define marriage,” he said in a release. “In Texas marriage is sacred and traditional families are recognized as the fabric of our society.”
Bell was one of 63 Texas lawmakers who signed an amicus brief back in August urging the Fifth Circuit to reject marriage equality, comparing it to polygamy, incest, and pedophilia. In 2013, he co-authored a bill that threatened to cut all funding for a school district that offered domestic partner benefits to the same-sex partners of its teachers and staff.