Update: Cecil Bell’s anti-gay-marriage bill died in the House’s deadline crunch Thursday night. It was obvious the fight was over by about 10:30 p.m., when anti-gay-marriage advocate Steven Hotze and Glen Maxey, the first openly gay member of the Legislature, both left the building.


Original post: For the House to beat a midnight deadline and bring up for debate Representative Cecil Bell’s bill to bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses, the chamber would have to work at a pace of nine minutes per bill. That’s unlikely. Bell’s bill is about 100th on the calendar on a day when the House has 900 minutes to debate and vote on bills before they die under the chamber’s rules.

The cynic in me says the placement of Bell’s bill far down on the calendar was no accident, and perhaps neither was the painful debate last night over judicial bypass for minors to obtain an abortion.

First, Representative Geanie Morrison’s HB 3994 to add hurdles to the judicial bypass process and require women to have identification to receive an abortion was one of the premiere agenda items of the Texas Alliance for Life. I wrote about it back in March, and the House battled over it for hours last night, as reported by Madlin Mekelburg of the Houston Chronicle.

For a legislative strategist, the bill may have been like sacrificing a major piece in chess.

Morrison’s bill has no Senate companion. Finding a Senate sponsor will not be difficult, but the bill comes up again today on third reading. That means even more time will be eaten up by debating it once more, further driving down the chances of Bell’s anti-same-sex marriage bill passing befoe the midnight deadline. Also, depending on how the House handles the paperwork, Morrison’s bill might not be delivered to the Senate until sometime next week. Then it would have to be read and referred to committee, where a public hearing would be required before it could be voted out. Senate rules also provide means of delaying the hearing on the bill. So the odds of the bill reaching the governor are not great.

By debating it in the House, however, the legislation gives the Republican allies of Speaker Joe Straus an anti-abortion vote they can carry into next year’s primaries. Significantly, the lawmaker wielding the gavel during at least a portion of the debate was Representative Jim Keffer. The Eastland Republican already has a tea party opponent who is often touted by Michael Quinn Sullivan’s AgendaWise Reports.

Now, the lay of the land for Bell’s HB 4105. The legislation would bar county clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses if the U.S. Supreme Court declares state bans on such marriages to be unconstitutional. The clerks could be caught between following a Supreme Court opinion and state law.

“It would be chaos,” Chuck Smith of Equality Texas told me.

Smith also believes the bill would be part of a larger strategy to keep fighting against implementing same-sex marriage in Texas. He speculated that Attorney General Ken Paxton would first argue that the Texas case, pending before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was not part of the national case and so the ruling does not apply. Failing that, Paxton could then litigate using Bell’s bill that the federal government cannot force the states to use state money to enforce a federal law or court ruling.

Failure tonight of Bell’s bill would make that litigation more difficult.

Ah, you say, Governor Greg Abbott could add Bell’s bill to the agenda of any special session. That is true, but the governor would be unlikely to call a session before his 20-day deadline to sign or veto bills has passed. That means the timing of a special session, particularly if the tax-cut negotiations break down, is most likely sometime in early July. By then, the Supreme Court will have ruled, and if it rules in favor of same-sex marriages, that will be the law of the land before the Legislature could resurrect Bell’s legislation.

I know this is a lot of moving parts and perhaps I’m reading too much into it all. But if thousands of gay and lesbian men and women are able to marry in late June, it may be, in some small way, thanks to last night’s abortion debate.

(AP Photo | Eric Gay)

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