Racing both a U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and legislative deadlines, Texas Republicans pushed ahead Tuesday toward putting the state at the forefront of resistance if same-sex weddings are ruled constitutional.
Nearly every Republican in the Texas House is backing a measure that would prohibit state and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Less than three weeks remain in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's first session, and the bill must clear the House by midnight Thursday to advance.
If signed by Abbott, the bill would aim to defy the Supreme Court if it legalizes gay marriage, laying the groundwork for Texas to potentially raise new legal battles over its ability to regulate marriage licenses.
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"It would certainly put the state in a position to challenge," said Republican state Rep. Cecil Bell, who filed the bill shortly after a Texas judge allowed a lesbian couple to wed despite a statewide ban on gay marriage.
The Alabama Supreme Court earlier this year already prohibited county officials in that state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Lawmakers in South Carolina are also pushing a bill similar to what was filed in Texas, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks gay rights issues.
Abbott didn't give hot-button social issues legislative priority after taking office in January. But with the Texas Legislature now close to adjourning, Republicans have accelerated legislation that gay rights activists consider hostile. This week began with the Senate giving approval for clergy members to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs.
That bill was filed on the same day last month that the Supreme Court heard arguments in the landmark gay marriage case -- and long after a Senate deadline for new legislation.
It's not as divisive as religious objection measures in Indiana and Arkansas that set off intense blowback earlier this year. Texas gay rights activists say they can live with the clergy bill -- which they consider redundant -- but the restrictions over marriage license have them on edge.
"It's shocking that Texas lawmakers are pursuing a path that would set up this showdown," said Rebecca Robertson, the legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas.
That Bell's bill already has so much support in the Texas House -- which is more moderate, at least by the standards of Texas politics -- signals that the Senate would also favorably greet the measure. The session ends June 1.
Some legal experts question the success Texas would have raising challenges over state sovereignty, saying those arguments have already been made to the Supreme Court in the current case.
"Any kind of appeal or challenge the state would bring would bring a fairly summary rejection by the Supreme Court," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "I don't know what purpose it serves."