The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Texas Same-sex Marriage Fight Heats Up

by Forrest Wilder

On Tuesday, Texans will vote on a ballot measure that could ban gay marriage through a constitutional amendment. The proposition faces stiff opposition and both sides say outcome is unpredictable.

Austin, Texas; Nov. 7, 2005 – Last election cycle, voters in thirteen states passed bans against same-sex marriage. This November, only Texas has such an amendment on its ballot. Though many would assume that a gay marriage prohibition would pass easily in the Lone Star State, the Proposition 2 is facing an energized, hopeful and somewhat unusual opposition.

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Although voters in 17 other states have approved similar bans – some by enormous margins – advocates for gay and lesbian issues and opponents of same-sex marriage both acknowledge that the outcome in Texas is unusually contested and important.

Referendums on gay marriage "caught a lot of voters off guard in 2004," said Brad Luna of the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization working for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. "When these hot button issues are dropped in the middle of an election, it takes people time to get a perspective," he explained. "I think Texas might be the first sign" of voters realizing that forcing gay marriage to a vote "was about cynical politics, getting people elected."

The Proposition’s sponsor, Texas state Representative Warren Chisum, on the other hand, is confident that Texas is "just gonna be state number 18," arguing at a recent debate that Proposition 2 is "about giving the people the right to vote how they feel about this all-important issue and not turning it over to the courts."

Dick Francis, a Texas resident whose son is gay, doesn't mince words about Warren Chisum. "I think he's a homophobe," Francis told The NewStandard after listening to the debate.

For all of Chisum’s certainty, grassroots gay marriage opponents are not so sure Proposition 2 will pass. Kelly Shackelford, with Texans for Marriage, the conservative organization leading the drive against same-sex marriage, said he is worried that like-minded Texans might not vote because they will be "overconfident" after seeing landslide victories for marriage bans in other states.

Texans for Marriage and other conservative organizations are concentrating on mobilizing church congregations to hit the polls. Meanwhile, the No Nonsense in November campaign – the most prominent statewide organization against Proposition 2 – is pouring its resources into liberal, gay-friendly locales in urban areas, especially Houston and Austin.

The debate around Proposition 2 has converged on the intertwined issues of marriage, child-raising and family. In public debates with Rep. Chisum, for example, attorney Anne Wynne, highlights one refrain: "There is nothing we can do, and nothing we should do, to keep two people who love each other from making a home and creating a family. This amendment discriminates against Texas families and Texas children."

At the same time, Rep. Chisum views same-sex marriage as an insidious assault on the fragile institution of marriage. "Marriage is a lot more than just whether or not you love a person," he said during a debate with Wynne. "If in fact we start degrading that and allow people of the same gender to call themselves married, then we've destroyed the institution of marriage and then marriage has no meaning whatsoever."

The political struggle over the meaning of marriage has produced Texas-sized fears. In fact, an organization called Save Texas Marriage has sprung up in the weeks before the election to argue that the language of Proposition 2 could open the door to a ban on all marriages in the state.

Trampes Crow, a member of Save Texas Marriage, explained to TNS that his group believes the wording of the amendment "creates this sort of pitfall that may harm any sort of marriage that is regular or same-sex."

The group says the problem lies in the way the amendment bars "creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage." Crow argues that "the institution that is most identical to marriage is marriage itself." Crow said he is afraid a judge might strike down all marriages based on the language of the amendment.

Save Texas Marriage recently recruited Reverend Tom Heger, a retired Presbyterian pastor, to record a message that went out to an estimated 2 million homes. The automated phone message warned people not to risk banning all marriage and urged them to vote against Proposition 2.

Other opponents of same-sex marriage are outraged by this tactic. Shackleford points to a recent public announcement issued by the Republican Texas Attorney General that calls Save Texas Marriage's allegations "wholly without merit."

While few opponents of Proposition 2 are confident it will be defeated, the anxiety of the other side speaks volumes. "It's very feasible they could defeat a constitutional amendment this November," said Shackelford. "Anything could happen."

Both sides are eagerly scouring over the few signs available. The early voting numbers are unusually high for a special election with few actual candidates on the ballot, outpacing those of a similar polling held in 2003. High turnout can go both ways, but Austin – the most liberal urban area – is posting the highest turnout in the state. In addition, all major newspapers have come out against Proposition 2, with the Houston Chronicle calling the amendment "hateful legislation" and "an embarrassment in 21st century Texas."

Regardless of the outcome of the election, Seabrook Jones, a gay man in a ten-year relationship, is confident that same-sex marriage will become not only legal but widely accepted in his lifetime. "I plan to live a long life and I plan to stay in my relationship forever," said Jones. "Just like any civil rights issue, it will eventually be settled, and it will be settled correctly."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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Forrest Wilder is a contributing journalist.

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