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Austin Supports Gay Marriage. So What Happens Next?

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Proponents of gay marriage in Texas scored a symbolic victory this week when Austin City Council became the first in the state to adopt a resolution supporting same-sex marriage. But what does that actually mean for gay rights in a place that – as Gov. Rick Perry claims – is “the most conservative state in America.”

Gay rights activists believe their best hope for legalizing same-sex weddings in Texas will come in the form of a Congressional action or a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to declare prohibitions of gay marriage unconstitutional. Texas voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2005 that defines marriage as the “union of one man and one woman.” (Travis County was the only county statewide to vote against it.)

But same-sex advocates see political opportunities in seeking smaller legislative successes. Equality Texas – the gay rights lobby group – has identified two priorities: making it illegal to fire someone because they’re gay, and allowing gay parents to adopt children as a couple.

Right now, state law doesn’t prohibit employers from firing people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Gay couples who adopt children must do so as a single person, and only one of them can be listed on the birth certificate as the parent.

Equality Texas says small steps have worked in the past. They point to the passage of an anti-bullying law it championed in the last legislative session as one of its victories. House Bill 1942 doesn’t mention same-sex youth outright, but it did require school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies and extend those policies to online activity. A survey released this month found that eight out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered youth in all 50 states still experienced harassment, but that anti-bullying policies are helping improve the situation.

Such incremental legislative progress to advance anti-discrimination measures may be celebrated by gay rights groups in a state where the dominant political party pressed to make sodomy illegal as recently as 2010, even though the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the state’s anti-sodomy law in 2003. But the anti-bullying law is still a far cry from the “marriage equality” called for in the resolution passed this week by Austin City Council.

“We have to look at the legislative environment and for some of these issues it’s challenging,” says Chuck Smith, the head of Equality Texas, “but we need to be working toward a place where equal treatment for all Texans is a bipartisan issue.”

He may get some resources from the City of Austin, if one elected leader gets her way. “I would like to see the city legislative team work with Equality Texas,” says Austin City Council Member Sheryl Cole. “I think we can serve in support of their legislative agenda.”

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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