Losing My Lege is a weekly column about the goings-on in and around the Austin capitol building during the 84th Texas legislature.
As the clock struck midnight heading into Friday, supporters of LGBTQ rights across the State of Texas began breathing just a little easier: Time had run out for the Republican-dominated Texas House of Representatives to approve a beastly bit of bigotry known as HB 4105, authored by this guy and co-authored by 89 of his closest hate-filled friends.
I don’t know how to describe Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. (R-Magnolia)’s bill other than to say that it is a tantrum masquerading as a piece of legislation. Knowing that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to make same-sex marriage legal across the country this summer, Texas lawmakers concocted a bill that would make it both illegal and impossible for any governmental entity or agent thereof in the state to grant, issue, or dream about granting or issuing, a marriage license to a same-sex couple.
All but a handful of Texas Republican representatives signed on to the bill. That’s how disgustingly excited these people were to make their bigotry known. To celebrate how deeply obsessed they are with denying gay and lesbian Texans—and their children, and their extended families—a marital benefit that the vast majority of these lawmakers themselves enjoy.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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But, stacked as it was behind a load of other legislation on the calendar, HB 4105 didn’t make it to the floor before the house’s midnight deadline, despite the fact that Gov. Greg Abbott was reportedly seen on the house floor lobbying for lawmakers to do whatever they could to bring up the bill. My guess is that this was done largely for show, because Abbott and his fellow high-ranking Republicans just can’t figure out how to stop campaigning for offices they’ve already won.
Even though some right-wingers are blaming the bill’s failure on Democrats’ use of a tactic known as “chubbing”—stalling and delaying to run out the clock before bad bills can come up—and many Democrats are patting themselves on the back for same, the reality is that if Republicans had really wanted to bring HB 4105, or any other bill, to the floor, they would have figured out a way to do it.
And in fact Republicans did prioritize some very bad legislation. Though the legislation wasn’t about oppressing gay folks, it was about bullying the two hundred or so teenage Texans who, each year, experience family situations so troubled and abusive that they need a judge’s approval to get an abortion because it is not safe—or not actually humanly possible—for them to get a parent’s permission.
On Wednesday night, the house debated HB 3994, a bill that requires all Texans to produce government identification (of an unspecified nature) in order to access abortion care. The bill would, for all practical purposes, end access to abortion care for minors who are abused by their parents or who are the victims of incest.
But Andrea, you say, haven’t Texas lawmakers already passed the country’s most stringent package of anti-abortion laws, shuttering dozens of legal abortion facilities, and making legal abortion care available to only the wealthiest and most privileged Texans?
You’re right, I’d say! But because Texas’ omnibus anti-abortion law, HB 2, wasn’t about “health and safety,” as lawmakers claimed, but about ending legal abortion care by any means necessary, anti-choice lawmakers are of course not going to pass up, this session, an opportunity to make sure an 11-year-old who’s been raped and impregnanted by her father and abandoned by her mother is forced, by the government, to carry that pregnancy to term.
Texas Monthly had a bizarrely callous take on the relationship between HB 3994 and HB 4105, casting pregnant and abused minors as actual literal pawns to be traded, by lawmakers, in exchange for a kind of detente on the gay marriage issue.
It is this line of thinking—that certain human beings, whether they be gay or lesbian Texans or pregnant, abused teenage Texans (or gay or lesbian pregnant or abused teenage Texans!) can be traded off, bartered for, tossed back and forth across the net as political ping-pong balls—that leads to a situation where 90 lawmakers can openly brag about anti-LGBTQ bigotry and vote to end legal abortion care for, say, an orphaned 14-year-old survivor of sex trafficking.
I understand that liberal and progressive lawmakers probably feel like they’ve got to strike whatever deals they can in a state that is so hostile to good science, good medicine, and basic human empathy. But I can’t help but feel frustrated that no matter what deals our pro-choice Democrats and reasonable Republicans strike, someone’s getting thrown under the bus—and, so often, that someone is a Texan who has the least political power, the fewest economic resources, the lowest level of socio-cultural capital.
There are still two weeks left in the legislative session, and plenty of time for something like HB 4105 to make it into law as an amendment on another bill. And there’s still plenty of time for HB 3994 to gain approval—or fail—in the Texas Senate.
Because the truth is that the Texas GOP can do whatever the hell it wants, and there’s no reason why it should, or would, choose between oppressing any two—or three, or four—vulnerable and marginalized populations. Indeed, Texas’ Republican leaders know they always can pit marginalized Texans against each other, forcing us to believe we have to choose between horrible policy and terrible policy while the right gets what it wants: whatever it wants.