To paraphrase the famous words of associate Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, states are the laboratories of American democracy. With their considerable autonomy, state governments can test out new policies that might not yet be palatable at the national level, and see if they bear any fruit.
On the other hand, instead of breaking new ground, states can choose to obsess over variations of old and antiquated policies to spite the march of progress. Figuratively speaking, while some states accept that the Earth revolves around the sun, others are free to act as if Copernicus never existed. California can have its heliocentrism, but in Texas, we’ll keep our epicycles.
Such is again the case in our state, whose bold new experiment is — drum roll please — discriminating against LGBTQ people. There is, of course, the infamous Senate Bill 6: Texas’ take on the anti-transgender bill that caused an uproar in North Carolina last year. The bill, which cleared the state senate in March, would ban transgender Texans from using whichever bathroom corresponds to their gender identity, instead forcing them to use the one corresponding to the gender printed on their birth certificate.
Needlessly, abhorrently cruel? Absolutely. It amounts to the state seeking to add its voice to the countless social pressures and stigmas that already conspire to make transgender people feel unwelcome in Texas and across the country. Those pressures and stigmas — rejection, discrimination, internal and external transphobia — have driven the rates of suicide, poverty and homelessness among transgender Americans to alarming levels.
And apparently, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who has been a vocal supporter of this bill, can’t get enough of it.
That being said, the bill appears increasingly unlikely to pass. But there’s plenty more bigoted bile where it came from. House Bill 2899, a somewhat watered down version of Senate Bill 6, was taken up by the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday. House Speaker Joe Straus, who opposes the senate bill, has yet to vocalize a position on this incarnation, which would ban municipalities and school districts in Texas from enacting nondiscrimination policies regarding bathroom use.
Meanwhile, another anti-LGBTQ bill was tentatively approved by the state senate last week. Senate Bill 522 would allow county clerks to refuse to issue same-sex marriage licenses in accordance with their personal religious beliefs — if another official is willing to do it for them.
If passed, the law would almost certainly face a challenge in court, but regardless of its constitutionality, this is a bill that primarily serves to inconvenience same-sex couples, as well as the officials who would be required to step in to replace the objecting individual — to do their job for them, essentially. Under this bill, the state wouldn’t deny gay and lesbian Texans the right to get married, but it would certainly treat them differently because of their sexual orientation.
No more than it can stop the Earth from orbiting the sun, the state government of Texas cannot reverse the Supreme Court decision that made same-sex marriage the law of the land, nor prevent transgender people from existing. But it can give legitimacy and authority to the denial of these basic realities. It can try its best to move in retrograde while the rest of the country continues on the path of progress. And these bills demonstrate that some of the state’s leaders are determined to do just that.
Groves is a government sophomore from Dallas. He is a Senior Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @samgroves