State Representative Rafael Anchia of Dallas, state Senator Rodney Ellis of Houston and Bill Hammond, the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, made it abundantly clear Tuesday: If many Republicans in the Legislature get their way and pass any number of the bevy of anti-LGBTQ constitutional amendments and bills proposed in the current session, it will be bad for Texans, bad for Texas business and give the state a public relations nightmare at least on par with one Indiana suffered after it passed its controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in late March.
There are, basically, three types of anti-LGBTQ discrimination that could potentially be codified into Texas law this legislative session. Two constitutional amendments seek to make discrimination based on religious belief legal -- like the Indiana RFRA. There is state Representative Debbie Riddle's bill that would mandate which restroom individuals use and then there are the bills that try to limit city's local control -- you know, the thing that allows Dallas to have an anti-discrimination ordinance despite the open hostility towards the LGBTQ community from many in Austin.
"These proposed bills would undermine or even sweep away nondiscrimination ordinances put in place in major cities across the state -- including my hometown of Dallas," Anchia said. "By undoing these protections, the Legislature would be sending a message that local control isn't as important as some of my colleagues have long said that it is. They would be saying to the rest of the country that discrimination against our neighbors, our friends, our family members is more important. My own city and many others across the state have decided against that kind of discrimination, and the Legislature shouldn't undermine our cities' economic well-being or our citizens' civil liberties."
Hammond said that the amendments and bills would hurt Texas' economic growth and limit the state's attraction to big employers like Toyota, which is in the middle of a move to Plano.
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"Either of these two amendments would bring the same backlash to Texas," Hammond said. "They also would lead to potentially enormous litigation costs, hurt our efforts to attract businesses and tourism dollars that keep our economy growing, and make it harder for employers to enforce laws and company policies barring discrimination against their workers and customers. Texas is a magnet for new businesses, talent and visitors. This legislation would immediately threaten our solid brand."
Although many have pointed out that Texas has had its own RFRA since 1999, Ellis said that bill, which he voted for and then-Governor George W. Bush signed, did not codify discrimination, as the bills on offer would. Texas RFRA merely protects the free exercise of religion rather than establishing religion as a right to discriminate. (It's been asserted successfully by a home-based synagogue in far North Dallas whose neighbors tried to shut it down.)
"These bills allow people to be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, denied public services the rest of us take for granted, and even turned into criminals simply because of who they are and whom they love. The Texas I love is better than that. This debate isn't about businesses not serving someone they might object to, as that minimizes the seriousness of what's at stake here," Ellis said.