In defiance of a potential ruling on the issue by the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas has forcefully entered the debate on gay marriage by seriously considering a bill that would prohibit local officials in that state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
According to Sandhya Somashekhar of the Washington Post, supporters of the measure argued that it would send a powerful message to the court. The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Houston, would prohibit taxpayer dollars from being used "to issue, enforce, or recognize a marriage license ... for a union other than a union between one man and one woman."
"It's shocking that Texas lawmakers would pursue a path that would set up this showdown between the Texas legislature and the courts," Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said.
Bell argued that the bill "simply preserves state sovereignty over marriage." However, gay rights advocates described the measure to the Washington Post as mean-spirited and discriminatory.
According to the Washington Post, the Texas Constitution has defined marriage exclusively between a man and a woman. However, the Supreme Court will soon rule on whether or not a constitutional right to same-sex marriage exists or if states like Texas can set a definition for marriage.
"If the court finds a universal right to same-sex marriage, that provision of the Texas Constitution would be swept aside," Somashekhar wrote. "But a legislative ban on the issuance of marriage licenses could stand, resulting in a potentially costly and drawn-out confrontation between the state government and the federal courts."
Somashekhar reported that the bill has a chance to be favorably received in the Texas House. If it passes there, it would move on to the Texas Senate.
According to Emma Margolin of MSNBC, the Texas bill is known as HB 4105, or the Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act. LGBT rights groups argued that the bill would keep the Texas ban on same-sex marriage alive regardless of how the Supreme Court decides in June.
"Texas is pioneering a new strategy to prevent equality for its LGBT residents," Chuck Smith, executive director of Equality Texas, said. "At its core, HB 4105 seeks to subvert any ruling that would allow the freedom to marry for loving, same-sex couples."
Bell argued to MSNBC that his bill was different from "religious freedom" proposals.
"This bill does not do anything that puts any person in a lesser position than where they currently are," Bell said. "It doesn't change businesses' ability to have their own guidelines for how they want to conduct their businesses. It simply codifies what we already do in Texas."
Bell added that there was historical "precedent" for states resisting Supreme Court rulings. He cited the 1857 Dredd Scott decision, which favored slavery.
"If you simply say the Supreme Court should be upheld - period - you have to say that Lincoln was wrong," Bell said, possibly in reference to the Emancipation Proclamation. "And I don't think that Lincoln was wrong."