Texas conservatives say bathroom, gay-marriage fight will continue

Sept 07, 2018
Lynda M. Gonzalez
State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, right, speaks during a panel at the Texas Faith, Family and Freedom Forum held by Texas Values on Friday. Kolkhorst spoke about the Texas Privacy Act, a 2017 bill she introduced that would have required transgender individuals to use rest rooms designated for their assigned sex at birth. LYNDA M. GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

With the Legislature set to convene in four months, conservative Republican lawmakers said Friday that the fight is not over on transgender-friendly bathrooms and same-sex marriage.

Speaking at an Austin forum sponsored by Texas Values, a Christian public policy advocacy group that is influential in GOP circles, the lawmakers said the issues were too important to leave unsettled after their favored bills were defeated in the 2017 legislative session.

“The only way that you fail is to not try,” said state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of unsuccessful bills to limit transgender-friendly bathrooms and locker rooms in public schools and government buildings last year.

State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, said the time is ripe to advance legislation to protect people and businesses opposed to gay marriage and other policies because of deeply held religious beliefs.

The rapid pace of conservative judges appointed by President Donald Trump, combined with a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that said governments cannot be hostile to religious practice, should give social and religious conservatives confidence heading into the legislative session that begins in January, Krause said.

The pending retirement of House Speaker Joe Straus, a moderate Republican who has thwarted several conservative priorities, should help as well, he said.

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“We should be able to get something signed, and because of the favorable climate in the judiciary, I think it will be upheld as well,” Krause said.

The lawmakers’ comments came at the opening of Texas Values’ first Texas Faith, Family and Freedom Forum, a two-day gathering that is expected to become an annual event intended to inspire conservative Texans to political action. The forum sold out with 200 participants, organizers said.

Requiring bathrooms and locker rooms to be used based on the sex listed on each person’s birth certificate is a 2019 legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which sees the issue as a matter of privacy and safety.

The fight over transgender bathrooms, however, was one of the most contentious issues last legislative session, producing several all-night committee hearings, numerous rallies and protests, and vigorous debates on the Senate floor.

It also inflamed a long-simmering feud between Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate and made curtailing transgender-friendly bathroom policies a high priority, and Straus, who said the bathroom bill was an unnecessary and mean-spirited distraction.

When the House killed the Senate-passed bill, Patrick retaliated by holding up essential legislation, forcing a special legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott started the cycle over again by making a transgender bathroom bill one of 20 items on the special session agenda — and the Senate quickly passed Kolkhorst’s bill, only to watch the House kill it again.

The issue arose again in March, when state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, a prominent committee chairman, told reporters that Abbott’s top aides worked behind the scenes to thwart the transgender bathroom bill, saying the governor opposed its passage. Abbott’s office declined to respond to Cook’s statements.

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Kolkhorst said at Friday’s forum that looking forward, attention should focus on ensuring that public schools do not adopt policies that allow biological boys who identify as girls to use female restrooms and locker rooms — policy changes, she said, that have been adopted by some districts without input from parents.

“I really believed in my heart that this was an issue that we needed to look at as a state and not settled school district by school district, not town by town,” she said during a half-hour session titled, “Why are men in the women’s restrooms?”

Kolkhorst called it the “women’s rights issue of our time.”

Conservatives were a bit more successful on faith-based issues in 2017, when Republicans filed more than a dozen bills intended to protect religious practice, including measures to allow businesses, individuals and government officials to opt out of serving gay couples over religious objections to same-sex marriage.

One of the bills passed. It barred governments from punishing faith-based foster care and adoption agencies that refused to place children with LGBT households.