Legislature to consider definition of marriage

13 years ago Comments Off on Legislature to consider definition of marriage

AUSTIN (AP) – A proposed constitutional ban of same-sex marriages in Texas could also prevent gays and lesbians from private contract privileges, including end-of-life decisions and children’s guardianship issues, gay-rights activists told lawmakers Monday.

Gay marriage and civil unions already are illegal in Texas, but some private arrangements are recognized under Texas law.

Republican Rep. Warren Chisum of Pampa has filed a proposed change to the constitution that would define marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman” in Texas. He said it wasn’t his intent to prevent gay couples from arrangements such as joint-property ownership or power of attorney.

“I think the institution of one man and one woman provides the best atmosphere in which to raise children,” Chisum said. “That’s the purpose of this.”

Putting the ban in the constitution would be an attempt to prevent legal challenges to the state Defense of Marriage Act, which was approved by the Legislature and became law two years ago.

Any change to the constitution, if approved by two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature, also must be approved by voters.

Dozens of gay rights activists lined up Monday to tell members of the House State Affairs Committee how Chisum’s proposed amendment would impact them.

Randall Ellis, the executive director of the Lesbian/Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said that Texas has 43,000 gay and lesbian households.

“There is no denying that (lesbian, gay and bisexual) families exist, and those families have a right to exist,” Ellis said.

As an unintended consequence of the marriage law adopted last session, Ellis said he was unable to add his partner to his health insurance policy.

“I’m not in love with a woman, I’m in love with a man named Jonathan Lopez, and that’s who I want to marry,” Ellis said.

The proposal also would mandate that the state “may not create or recognize any legal status similar to marriage for unmarried persons.”

San Antonio Democrat Rep. Mike Villarreal said he worried that such language would eliminate contractual relationships that are currently allowed by state law, such as power of attorney or property ownership.

“I think marriage is so important, we shouldn’t be closing the door,” Villarreal said.

Nationally, President Bush supports conservative advocacy groups pushing for congressional approval of a federal constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Such a measure, which would need ratification by 38 states, failed to win the necessary two-thirds support in the U.S. House and Senate last year.

Chisum has said that he hopes the constitutional amendment in Texas would send a message to Congress that Texans support a similar amendment on the federal level. Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick, who presides over the House, said Monday that he favors the measure.