Texas gay marriage bill faces setback after deadline passes

May 14, 2015, 11:30 PM
Texas Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, talks about his proposed bill that would penalize county and loc...
Texas Rep. Cecil Bell, R-Magnolia, talks about his proposed bill that would penalize county and local officials for issuing gay marriage licenses, Tuesday, May 12, 2015, in Austin, Texas. 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. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A bill widely backed by Texas Republicans to stop gay marriage regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules this summer is dead for now.

Time ran out at the stroke of midnight Thursday for the Texas House to pass legislation that would prohibit government employees in from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. It never even reached a vote as outnumbered Democrats used stall tactics to keep the bill at the back of the line.

Nearly every House Republican sponsored the bill, while powerful Texas business groups and Dell Inc. opposed it, with some pointing to backlash over recent Indiana and Arkansas laws that opponents consider discriminatory.

“This was a big opportunity, and it didn’t happen for them,” Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel said.

Israel, one of two openly gay members of the Texas House, described it as a difficult day awaiting the fate of the measure. In February, a member of her staff married her lesbian partner in Austin after getting permission from a judge — the first gay couple in Texas to marry since a 2005 state constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Three weeks later, Republican state Rep. Cecil Bell filed his bill to prohibit state and local officials from giving marriage licenses to gay couples.

Bell said early Friday he wasn’t giving up, but with only two weeks left before the Legislature adjourns, there is no easy path for another chance. More than 20 bills were still stacked in front of Bell’s when time expired.

“There was a bunch of folks who don’t think that state sovereignty is a high priority,” Bell said.

Dell Inc. this week became the most visible company to oppose the bill publicly. The Texas-based computer maker said it told Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that the company considers diversity a “business imperative.”

Abbott said Thursday night his focus was on tax cuts and the budget when asked if the House needed to act on the measure.

Outnumbered Democrats bled the clock to midnight. They stalled with lengthy debates over noncontroversial issues and tied up the floor with a no-hope bill to raise the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, knowing that Republicans would have sacrifice other legislation to move up the anti-gay marriage measure.

Despite emotions running high on both sides, the atmosphere in the Capitol matched the slow pace on the floor. The House gallery was largely empty most of the day, with neither opponents nor supporters making their presence felt.

Texas Republicans saw the bill as a way to put the state at the forefront of resistance if the Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage. If signed by Abbott, it could lay the groundwork for Texas to potentially raise new legal battles over its ability to regulate marriage licenses.

But legal experts have cast doubt over how much success Texas would have mounting such a challenge.

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.

___

Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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Texas gay marriage bill faces setback after deadline passes