News Column

Gay Rights Bills Filed in Texas

Feb. 19, 2013

Jon Vanderlaan

Ten years after the landmark Lawrence v. Texas Supreme Court decision, which ruled that criminal laws against homosexuals were unconstitutional, several state congressmen have filed bills relating to the rights of gays.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, is one of five congressmen to file bills, his regarding the repeal of the 2005 constitutional amendment against gay marriage and repeal of a criminal statute against homosexual conduct, on the books since 1974.

"The time has come to put Texas in the mainstream of American values. The simple fact is that the government should not stand in the way of people who want to enjoy the legal rights and privileges of marriage that the rest of us enjoy," Rodriguez said in a news release. "As for the Texas Penal Code, it was a ridiculous law to begin with, as noted even by conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas."

The law Rodriguez is referring to is Class C misdemeanor homosexual conduct, which states that a person commits an offense if he engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.

The bill also would remove language from the Health and Safety Code referring to homosexuality as "not an acceptable lifestyle."

Vaughn Varley, a 43-year-old gay Odessan, said while he is happy the issues are being brought up, he doesn't have much hope for the Republican-controlled Texas legislature to pass the bills.

"I always expect Texas to be a few years behind," Varley said. "It's nice that the Legislature is finally catching up."

Varley said he thought the Lawrence v. Texas decision eliminated the law, which has remained on the books since the 2003 ruling.

A news release sent out by Rodriguez's office stated that despite the ruling, rendering the law "unenforceable and unconstitutional," Texas has not removed the law from the books, leading some law enforcement officials to incorrectly apply the law.

"For example, in El Paso in 2009, two men were kicked out of a restaurant by a security guard who said they were kissing and it was offensive," according to the news release. "The men called police and said one of the responding officers told them that they could be arrested."

Shari Johnson, the founder of Odessa Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said it's important to resolve the issues regarding gay rights in a civilized manner, and she's happy it's being done in the Legislature.

"There was a time where (these issues) weren't even being considered," she said. "People are changing little by little. I have hope now."

Johnson started the PFLAG chapter in Odessa after a change of heart when her daughter came out as a lesbian, later marrying her partner in Massachusetts.

Johnson said it's a good place to start, but change doesn't just come through legislation -- it must come from people's hearts.

"I don't see, and never have seen, how one American having a right precludes another one, or is hurt in any way from another person having a right," she said. "It doesn't harm anyone and it's really no one else's business."

In addition to the bills filed by Rodriguez, Rep. Lon Burnham, D-Fort Worth; Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston; and Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, have filed similar bills regarding gay marriage in the Texas House.

Sen. Chuy Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also filed a gay rights bill regarding civil unions.

Source: (c)2013 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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