Garnet Coleman

Earlier this month, state Representatives Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas, and Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, introduced twin bills initiating an amendment to the Texas Constitution. If passed, the bills would reverse the constitutional provision added in 2005 that bars under Texas law marital status for same-sex couples.

According to newspaper accounts, Coleman said in support of his own measure, “In 2005, most Texans did not support any form of legal recognition for lesbian and gay couples. But, public opinion has changed greatly in the last eight years, both across the country and right here in Texas … Two-thirds of Texas’ voters now believe the state should allow some form of legal recognition for committed same-gender couples.” Researchers from UT and The Texas Tribune conducted a survey in October 2012 that showed that only 33 percent of Texas voters wanted same-sex couples marrying, another 33 percent wanted to allow them to join only in civil unions and 25 percent didn’t want any state-sanctioned coupling of two men or two women.

We vigorously support a reversal of Texas’s ban on same-sex marriages.

But we think arguments supporting that reversal, which are unrelated to other statistics, might be more persuasive; quibbling about polling data amounts to nothing more than testing which way the wind blows. 

Instead, look at what the federal courts have already decided and the reasoning they relied on. One year ago, on Feb. 7, 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that determined that California’s Proposition 8 — which amended that state’s constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry — violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees all of our rights to equal protection under the law. On March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear an appeal of that ruling. If the Supreme Court justices read the 9th Circuit opinion — and undoubtedly they have already — they will see an elegant, encouraging message to advocates of same-sex marriage rights to keep fighting, even in the Texas Legislature, an unlikely setting for their success.

The 9th Circuit opinion states: “We need consider only the many ways in which we encounter the word ‘marriage’ in our daily lives and understand it, consciously or not, to convey a sense of significance. We are regularly given forms to complete that ask us whether we are ‘single’ or ‘married.’ Newspapers run announcements of births, deaths and marriages. We are excited to see someone ask, ‘Will you marry me?’, whether on bended knee in a restaurant or in text splashed across a stadium Jumbotron. Certainly it would not have the same effect to see ‘Will you enter into a registered domestic partnership with me?’ ... The name ‘marriage’ signifies the unique recognition that society gives to harmonious, loyal, enduring, and intimate relationships.”

In a final note, the 9th Circuit ruling adds: “To the extent that it has been argued that withdrawing from same-sex couples access to the designation of ‘marriage’ will encourage heterosexual couples to enter into matrimony, or will strengthen their matrimonial bonds, we believe that the People of California ‘could not reasonably’ have ‘conceived’ such an argument ‘to be true.’ … It is implausible to think that denying two men or two women the right to call themselves married could somehow bolster the stability of families headed by one man and one woman.”

All said, marriage is meaningful and all should enjoy the right to get married. Gay people getting married and enjoying that right does not hurt straight people wanting to do the same.

Texas ranked 49th in the percentage of low-income people covered by Medicaid and last in both per capita mental health spending and the percentage of the population over 25 with a high school diploma, according to a report from the Texas Legislative Study Group.

The group released its fifth annual “Texas on the Brink” report today, which lists Texas’ rankings as compared to other states in categories such as education, health care and taxes. The first report was published in 2003 by former senator Eliot Shapleigh, who collected information from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and the Texas Legislative Budget Board to create the rankings.

“[The report] gives us the ability to see where we are as a state,” said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, the chair of the Texas Legislative Study Group. “This is pretty much the state of our state.”

Based on the group’s report, the Legislature can address the areas in which Texas ranks lowest. Coleman said Texas had poor ratings in many key areas, especially health spending and education.

“We use those kinds of statistics so we know where we are so we can make policy decision based on the current standing of Texas,” Coleman said.

Although Texas had the second-highest rate of public school enrollment, low high school graduation rates may come from a lack of motivation. Coleman said if more funding were available for high school students to attend college, they might be more successful. Consequently, the Legislature will try to alleviate the problem of high tuition costs, he said.

“If we continue to push tuition off on college students themselves, then the reality is fewer and fewer students will be able to go because we don’t make that up in scholarship dollars,” he said.

However, because of the current $27-billion budget shortfall, it is likely that the rankings will continue to fall, Coleman said. Despite Texas’ money troubles, University Democrats spokesman Cameron Miculka said funding higher education must be a priority for Texas legislators.

”If we want to improve the way Texas looks to the rest of the country, we can’t put education on the chopping block to solve all our problems,” Miculka said.

Although the rankings show that Texas is not doing well in most of these categories, Jessica LaBerge, vice president of College Republicans at Texas, said she does not believe they necessarily mean Texas as a state is doing poorly.

“We are in lower tiers on a lot of rankings, but those rankings don’t speak to the quality of life in the state, and I don’t think they give a complete picture for the state as a whole,” she said. “There are a lot of things we do really well and I think there are things we could work on, but I think that’s true for every state.”