Texas leaders must stop standing in the way of civil rights, progress

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Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

On Friday, exactly 12 years after bans on sodomy in 14 states, including Texas, were struck down and exactly two years after the Defense of Marriage Act was struck, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is a constitutional right to marriage equality. Bans on same-sex marriage were invalidated in 13 states — again, including Texas — allowing marriage equality across every corner of this country.

This decision has been a long time coming. After many decades of inequality, discrimination and prejudice, gays and lesbians will finally receive many of the rights guaranteed to them by the constitution. The plaintiff in this specific case, James Obergefell, simply wanted his name listed on the death certificate of his partner of many years. Other plaintiffs wanted to raise their children together or ensure onerous taxes would not be levied on a surviving spouse. Indeed, this case is the pinnacle of what will likely be remembered as our generation’s civil rights struggle.

But this case is not the end of the road for LGBT rights; there is still much left to do. In many states, including Texas, there are no statewide employment protections for LGBT people. And although many Texas cities, including Austin, have municipal prohibitions, most Texans can still get fired for being gay. The State of Indiana briefly dabbled with a terrible law this year that gave public businesses a right to deny service to LGBT people; Texas considered but, thankfully, did not pass a similar proposal.

Most other states have accepted this decision, even if largely opposed. The Commonwealth of Kentucky, one of the states defending its ban at the Supreme Court this year, began issuing licenses to same-sex couples immediately. And while Kentucky does have a Democratic governor, Arkansas — which does not — also expeditiously began issuing licenses.

Sadly, Texas’ leadership has not done the same as they continue to embarrass themselves on this issue. Gov. Greg Abbott, breaking from most other Republican governors, did not solemnly acknowledge the Supreme Court’s decision and move on. Rather, he grandstanded, pontificating that “no man can redefine” marriage. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick officially asked Attorney General Ken Paxton if there was any way to block these marriages, and Paxton looks to be seriously considering defying the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Whatever the ruling, I would recommend that all County Clerks and Justices of the Peace wait for direction and clarity from this office about the meaning of the Court's opinion and the rights of Texans under the law,” Paxton said in a statement June 25. “To be clear - the law in the state of Texas is that marriage is one man and one woman, and the position of this office is that the United States Constitution clearly does not speak to any right to marriage other than one man and one woman and that the First Amendment clearly protects religious liberty and the right to believe in traditional marriage without facing discrimination.”

Paxton wants County Clerks, the local representatives in Texas tasked with issuing marriage licenses, to hold off, despite the fact that the highest court in the country has directly ruled otherwise. And while many such representatives, including Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, are rightfully ignoring Paxton’s ridiculous advice, others — including Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, who represents more than 4 million people — initially heeded it before later backing down at the threat of a federal court injunction.

Unsurprisingly, the right wing opposition has made this historic victory for civil rights in America not only an issue of religious freedom but alleged that this decision attacks and victimizes “people of faith.”

“Displays of hate and intolerance against people of faith should be denounced by all people of good will [sic] and spark concern among anyone who believes in religious liberty and freedom for all,” Paxton said in a statement this morning.

Other prominent Texas legislators have joined Paxton’s side. State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton), Patrick and State Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) have emphatically opposed the Supreme Court’s ruling. Patrick went so far as to invoke an opinion from Paxton’s office on the conflict between First Amendment religious rights and the new ruling.  

To describe this attempt and others to make people of faith victims, or even put them in the same conversation of victimhood in this country as LGBTQ people, in the decision to grant same-sex couples their long-denied constitutional right as anything other than shameful and degrading to the American spirit of equality is just plain wrong. The alleged right of some to not be offended in no way overshadows the right of others to live with the dignity and equality that is inherent to all.

This decision is a landmark for gays, lesbians and indeed all Americans who value the Constitution and civil rights. But Texas leaders are shamefully dragging their feet and standing in the courthouse door against progress. In order for these full rights to be realized, they must step aside.

Update: A previous version of this editorial stated that Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart is heeding Attorney General Ken Paxton's advice not to issue marriage licenses until Paxton issues instructions to do so. Stanart later reversed course at the threat of a federal injunction. This editorial has since been updated to reflect this development.