Having determined that it was not sufficient to have a state Defense of Marriage law prohibiting all forms of gay marriage, this week the Texas State Senate passed an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage all over again, presumably under the theory that gay marriage is so evil that it has to be doubly illegal. Under Texas law this amendment now goes out for a vote by the public and if they approve it then it joins the 430-some other amendments already on the books and generally being ignored.
Several things have to be pointed out about this bill. First, the Texas constitution requires a 2/3 vote to pass a constitutional amendment, and although Republicans have a majority, they don’t have 2/3 of the votes. Ultimately a quarter of the Democrats in the Senate also supported the amendment, and without those key votes it would not have passed. Second, the most outspoken critics of the amendment from the Democrat side are two of the most extreme, somewhat nutty partisans to ever serve in public office here in Texas. They may not be as crazy as Al Edwards who sponsored the Suggestive Cheerleading bill, but compromise and rational debate are not part of their political arsenal. John Whitmire (D-Houston) had a virtual emotional breakdown while shouting at Republicans about how evil the amendment was, and showed his sharp grasp on Texas law by commenting that the constitution had 300 amendments rather than the actual total of 432. The other main opponent of the amendment was Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) who’s the most intractable left-winger in the Senate and particularly unpopular with Republicans. It also didn’t help that several Democrats tried to tack on joke additions to the bill to try to kill it, like a provision requiring married couples to have regular sex, and another making it illegal to get married and divorced more than three times. Finally, outside of the Senate the critics were incredibly shrill and irritating, and one of the most vocal was Kathy Miller of the Texas Freedom Network, a cynically misnamed group which can generally be used as a litmus test to identify those pieces of legislation which are most oppressive. If the TFN supports it, it has to be a bad idea.
So with friends like these it’s not surprising that the amendment passed the Senate. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the legislators voted for it just because of how irritating the people who opposed it are. That having been said, banning gay marriage remains ridiculous and fundamentally wrong. But the upside of having it presented as a constitutional amendment is that now the public can vote on it once and for all and make their feelings clear. The interesting question that raises is what happens if it gets voted down? Does that mean that the legislature will repeal the original Defense of Marriage act too? Wouldn’t that be the only right thing to do once the public has made their feelings clear?
Of course, what happens to the amendment depends almost entirely on what else is on the ballot when it comes up for a vote. If it gets stuck on the ballot with a bunch of local candidates and referendums where turnout would normally be low, then it all comes down to who can turn out the most fanatical voters for or against it. It would basically be a battle between gay activist groups and churches and in that contest the churches probably win. If it is put on a general election with major offices that will bring out a broad cross-section of voters then the vote will be much more representative of the actual views of the public at large, which would likely mean the defeat of the amendment.
For more coverage of this see the Houston Chronicle Coverage which isn’t as good as the coverage in the Austin American Statesman, but it’s free.