On March 11, 2013, I was privileged to join hundreds of my fellow citizens for Equality Texas Lobby Day in Austin.
I wore several hats that day -- member of the Religion & Faith Council for the Human Rights Campaign, Executive Director of Soulforce, licensed clergy fourth-generation Texan and, I like to believe, a disciple of Jesus.
Our lobby group came from around the state, encouraged to join the effort by Chuck Smith, Executive Director of Equality Texas. Lobby Day has happened before but this one was the largest in attendance ever 550-plus. Chuck and his team did an extraordinary job communicating the issues to all of us and lighting a fire under us as voters and concerned citizens. Thank you, Chuck!
We arrived on the first day of Spring Break. It seemed particularly fitting that the Capitol Rotunda was filled with families with children and teachers because we were there to visit with legislators about inclusive policies that protect all children, end discrimination and strengthen relationships.
In advance of our arrival, I called six legislative offices of Republicans and made an appointment for my team of five colleagues to discuss House Bill 1300 (sponsored by Rep. Lon Burnam in Fort Worth). This bill will repeal language added to the family code in 2003 that prohibits the freedom to marry for same-gender loving couples.
The history of this bill is that in 2003, the Texas Legislature passed the Texas Defense of Marriage Act eliminating the freedom to marry for lesbian, gay, bisexual Texans in same-gender relationships. In 2005, the Texas Constitution was similarly amended.
HB 1300 will also add language to the family code to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of marriage are available to every committed couple. Less than 50 words must change in the current code to release LGBT families from overt discrimination under the law in Texas.
We all took time off work to travel to Austin because we wanted to ensure that our representatives knew this bill was in committee since they have to sort through thousands of bills.
We wanted them to know that the most recent study of baseline registered voters in Texas indicates that 69 percent of Texans believe that there should be some form of legal recognition for same-gender couples.
And we wanted to stand with the bill's sponsor Rep. Burnam and echo his words:
"Texans have long valued personal freedom (and) it is time to apply that value to this issue. And, the nation and the people of Texas have evolved on the issue of marriage since the Constitutional amendment was approved by voters in 2005. Attitudes are changing."
As we made our rounds, we heard a recurring concern about the ability of our representatives to truly represent us.
They talked about report cards or score cards being used to rate them by ultra conservative groups within the Republican party and external funders of the party.
Bottom-line, these groups are holding our representatives "hostage" to voting blocs or covenants that exclude justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Many of our representatives seem more focused on getting an "A" from these groups than on representing us.
Our legislators talked about the "difficult environment" in which they were trying to work. It made me think about a movie i just saw -- Lincoln. He seemed to manage in a tough environment, to keep his commitment to liberty and justice for all citizens at the center of his understanding.
No doubt his report card from his opponents was often failing. I shudder to think where we would be today if his grade from them had been an A.
As we neared the end of our meetings, a siren began to sound in the offices and hallways of the Capitol. It was a loud, unpleasant and persistent reminder that roll call was underway for legislators due on the floor to vet and vote on the bills before them.
It was a shrill reminder that they can't hide from their responsibilities as our elected officials even if our current environment might encourage them to do so. They have to show up. Their job is to ensure that every citizen of Texas has a voice and, I believe, we elect them to face lines of resistance to full equality and try to break through.
In spite of my ideological differences with my Republican representatives, I had a moment of understanding and empathy as the roll call siren continued to blare. There must be moments when they would rather hide under their desks than enter a room full of people set to disagree and disavow equal protection under the law.
They are engaged in a game they cannot win, a gridlock of mindsets and power brokers. If they "break" with the master plan of the most conservative factions in their party, they lose. If they don't vote for true equality and justice for all of their constituents, they lose. They have to decide where they want to stand.
I want to thank each of these representatives for meeting with us and for listening to our stories and our requests. I felt respected and heard.
I hope they will remember us and see our faces and hear our stories when they deliberate about what it means to be equal under the laws of Texas and our nation. I hope each of of them will vote according to his or her conscience and in accordance with the people they represent, not the people they fear.
I plan to pray for each of the six representatives whose offices we visited. If you pray, I hope you will join me. If you set positive intentions and affirmations for the world, I hope you will set them.
If you want to join me in thanking them for hearing us and/or write them your wishes and dreams about justice, their names are:
- Senator Robert F. Deuell. His Legislative Director is Scot Kibbe. firstname.lastname@example.org
When the thumb of fear lifts, we are so alive. -- Mary Oliver