Last edited: February 14, 2005

Texas Committee Approves Sodomy Repeal

DataLounge, April 20, 2001
Source: Houston Voice

Legislation to repeal Section 21.06 of the state’s penal code, also known as the sodomy law, was approved by a Texas House Committee Wednesday in a 7-2 vote. The next step is a vote on the floor of the full House of Representatives.

Sponsored by State Rep. Debra Danburg, D-Houston, House Bill 687 is aimed at striking down the homosexual conduct law which prohibits sodomy between same-sex couples. Texas decriminalized sodomy, defined by the law as anal or oral sex, for heterosexuals in 1973.

The 7-2 vote crossed party lines with five Democrats and two Republicans favoring the bill. Reps. John Shields, R-San Antonio, and Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, cast the only dissenting votes. Following the committee approval, Danburg told the Associated Press she was proud her fellow legislators for not making the vote a partisan issue.

"We are so pleased to have bipartisan support on this issue," Danburg said. "The sodomy law is an invasion of citizens’ privacy, it is violation of equal protection because it only applies to one group of citizens, and it is only used to justify anti-gay discrimination. I commend my colleagues for taking the first step in ridding our state of such an embarrassing law."

Houston attorney Mitchell Katine, who is representing John Geddes Lawrence and Tyron Garner who were arrested three years ago and charged with engaging in homosexual conduct, testified at the bill’s hearing Tuesday.

"I told them that people really do get arrested because of this law, as my clients did," Katine said. "I told them that this is an embarrassment to the state."

Twelve states have sodomy laws that apply to both same- and opposite-sex couples. Only two other states, Oklahoma and Kansas, still criminalizes sodomy between same-sex couples. Arkansas struck down its homosexual conduct law on March 23.

"There are 25 states, plus Washington, D.C., whose legislatures have repealed their sodomy laws from 1962 to 1998," Katine told the committee. "Texas doesn’t want to be the only one out there doing this and there’s only three states left. Let’s not be the last one."

Lesbian Gay Rights Lobby of Texas Executive Director Dianne Hardy-Garcia said she’s pleased with the progress of the legislation.

"Legal challenges to the anti-gay sodomy law are unfortunately costing Texas hundreds of thousands of dollars, but we have no choice but to continue to fight against this law because it is consistently used to perpetuate discrimination against gay Texans," Hardy-Garcia said.

Hate crimes bill stalls

At press times, efforts to get a hate crimes bill that would include enhanced penalties for crimes committed because of bias, including bias based sexual orientation, were stalled in both the House and the Senate.

Bills in both chambers passed out of committee weeks ago and were scheduled for votes by the full membership of each house on Wednesday. Those votes were postponed, however, after Senate sponsor Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, accused Gov. Rick Perry of pressuring Republicans into pulling their support of the vote.

Ellis said he had enough support to bring the bill to a vote Wednesday before Perry started calling lawmakers to stall it. Perry denied that he took action against the bill and said that he wanted the bill delayed to ensure a fair debate after learning that two Republican senators who oppose the bill were absent.

Perry said Wednesday that he would look at the bill if it gets to his desk but he would not say whether he will sign. The bill could still become law if the governor does not sign it, or he could veto it.

Despite the delays and accusations, however, the bill appeared likely to reach the floor in at least one chamber, the House, late Thursday.

The James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, named for the black man dragged to death behind a pickup in 1998, strengthens penalties for crimes motivated by bias. The sexual orientation part of the bill has been a sticking point and is the reason then-Gov. George Bush worked to kill the bill two years ago, according to legislative watcher.

"I’m convinced if members are left to their consciences on this bill, it will pass," Ellis told the Associated Press.

Education non-discrimination bill passes committee

A bill that would prohibit discrimination against students in Texas schools passed out of the House Public Education Committee late Tuesday night. The bill now awaits a vote by the full House.

House Bill 1296, authored by State Rep. Harryette Erhardt, D-Dallas, was approved 6-0 by the committee with three other members not expected to vote in favor of the bill leaving before the 11 p.m. vote was taken.

"We are very happy about it," Erhardt told the Houston Voice from the floor of the House Wednesday morning. "It was a wonderful night and the students who came to testify were euphoric. There were probably about 15 people in my office after the passage."

The bill, if it is eventually passed by both Houses of the Legislature and signed into law, would add the following text to the state’s education code: "A public educational institution or employee of a public educational institution may not discriminate against a student enrolled in the institution on account of the ethnicity, color, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or national origin of the student or the student’s parent."

The bill has been introduced twice before but died in committee.

Testimony began after 10 p.m. Tuesday. Six people, representing African-American, Jewish and gay and lesbian students and parents spoke, Erhardt said.

"There were only six who testified but there were over three times that number who signed up," she said.

A similar bill protecting teachers from discrimination is still pending in the committee.

Hardy-Garcia said the student bill’s passage from the committee was one of many reasons she is celebrating this week.

"We’re thrilled, and I can’t thank Rep. Erhardt enough," Hardy-Garcia said Wednesday morning. "It’s a critical bill for gay youth in Texas. Right now there are no bills that protect gay youth."

Watchers are uncertain whether that bill will make it to a vote by the full House.

"I feel much better about it now that I did," said Erhardt. "It’s got a chance."

Hardy-Garcia was less optimistic about passage, but said getting it to a debate on the House floor would be a major step.

"I am terminally conservative in my estimates of stuff," she said. "I would say we have a chance to take this to the floor of the House. And win or lose, having the opportunity for the whole House to debate this is a great opportunity."

In other legislative news, the Senate’s anti-gay marriage, Senate Bill 488-nicknamed the Texas Defense of Marriage Act by conservatives-stalled again in its committee.

"I’m pleased about stalling DOMA, because the weeks are ticking," Hardy-Garcia said.

The bill, introduced by Republican Senator Chris Harris, says the state "may not give effect" to any "public act, record, or judicial proceeding that recognizes or validates a marriage or civil union between persons of the same sex" or any "public act, record, or judicial proceeding that recognizes or validates a marriage or civil union between persons of the same sex."

Hardy-Garcia has repeatedly slammed the bill as malicious because gay unions and marriages are not currently allowed in Texas.

Attempts by State Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, to get an employment nondiscrimination act on the state’s books are not seeing much progress so far in the legislative session, and time is running out. The bill is stalled in the State Affairs committee.

Maxey staffer Robin Chandler said she is not sure the bill will see progress this session.

"I can’t tell you whether it will ever get out," Chandler said. "My sense is that it may get heard, but it may not get out of committee."

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