The Texas legislature has only just convened, but there are already three different bills proposed that are designed specifically to help people discriminate against LGBT people. As previously reported, one would allow businesses to use their religious beliefs as justification for violating nondiscrimination protections, another would punish clerks for issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples should marriage equality become law, and now lawmakers are discussing a possible third bill that would actually prohibit Texas municipalities from even extending LGBT protections in the first place.
The Texas Observer reports that state lawmakers from the Plano area — Plano having recently passed a law protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations — are planning to introduce legislation blocking any cities and counties from ever passing such laws. Their legislation would also likely nullify the many laws that already exist across the state, such as in Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, San Antonio and Waco.
The bill — not yet filed — sounds like it will mirror a law that Tennessee passed in 2011. LGBT advocates referred to the legislation as the “Special Access to Discriminate” (SAD) Act. It stipulated that no municipality could extend protections that don’t exist at the state level. So long as Tennessee doesn’t protect sexual orientation and gender identity in its nondiscrimination laws, neither can any subdivision of the state. That didn’t stop Memphis from passing LGBT protections in 2012, but it’s unclear if those protections would be upheld in state court. Nebraska’s legislature also proposed such a ban on LGBT protections in 2012, but it didn’t advance.
Passage of city ordinances in Texas has become quite contentious in recent years. Houston’s law, passed last year, is still in limbo as conservatives go to court next week to fight for their petition challenging it to be validated, despite numerous concerns about the validity of their petition signatures. Similarly, when San Antonio took up its legislation in 2013, local opposition attracted national attention. Such ordinances have become the center of conservatives’ efforts against marriage equality, as they argue that business owners’ religious beliefs should entitle them to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Thus, Texas lawmakers have essentially proposed multiple dams to block the flow of LGBT equality. If the courts rule for marriage equality in Texas, they want to make it harder for same-sex couples to even get marriage licenses from clerks. If those couples then try to obtain services for their wedding, they don’t want florists, bakers, and other vendors to have to worry about any nondiscrimination laws requiring them to serve the couple. And even if those laws are on the books at the local level, lawmakers still want the businesses to be able to ignore them without consequence if a complaint is filed. At every step, they want to make it easier to discriminate against LGBT people.