Ostensibly, all the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs was doing Wednesday was addressing Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick's charge that, between sessions, the Texas Senate take a look at protecting religious liberties in the state — something that, it should be noted, means different things to different people.
That happened on Wednesday, but testimony at the hearing ended up being something else entirely — a who's who of the players who've shaped the battle against LGBTQ rights in Texas returning, all at once, to state their cases.
Patrick was frustrated that the Legislature failed to pass any robust protection laws for Texas Christians in 2015, laws that would've allowed businesses to deny services to people based on their sexual orientation or that would've banned state funding from being used to issue same-sex marriage licenses. He asked the Senate to take a look before the 2017 session gets rolling, and Wednesday's hearing was the result.
After testimony invited by the committee, which included statements from the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Civil Liberties Union and Ken Paxton's Attorney General's Office, the first member of the public to address the committee was Molly Criner, the Irion County Clerk.
Criner was one of the indelible figures of the state of Texas' brief spat that followed the Supreme Court of the United States legalizing same-sex marriage last June. Following a directive from Paxton, Criner asserted her religious liberty as a right to discriminate. With help from the Liberty Institute, she announced that she would refuse to issue a marriage license to any same-sex couple.
"To keep my oath to uphold the Constitution, I must reject this ruling that I believe is lawless," Criner said last July. "I have to stand for the Constitution and the rule of law."
At the time, a lawsuit against Criner, like the one that got filed against Johnson County Clerk Katie Lang, seemed inevitable. As of Wednesday, however, that hasn't happened, nor has it had the chance to, because no one has asked. Criner has not received a single request for a marriage license from a same-sex couple, she said Wednesday, except for one from a couple of reporters who didn't actually want to get married.
"I see the ruling of the Supreme Court to be in direct violation of the [Texas and United States Constitutions]," Criner said, so she hasn't resigned, as she originally thought she might. "The law and the Constitution have got me in a bind, because I've taken an oath to uphold those two, and this is going to be something the violates my oath."
"Molly Criner went well beyond having any ministerial problem with issuing licenses. She went beyond that, to the point of saying that she is above the law, that her beliefs are above the Constitution," says Glen Maxey, director of county affairs for the Texas Democratic Party. "If there's a county clerk that deserves to learn about federalism and the U.S. Constitution, it would be the clerk in Irion County."
Then there was a Houston wedding photographer who told the committee he'd stopped doing weddings in case the city took him to court for refusing same-sex couples, and a Fredericksburg bed and breakfast operator who said she couldn't advertise her event space — "perfect for weddings" — because she was scared of being persecuted.
David Pickup made the meeting, too. Pickup is the Dallas-based licensed psychotherapist who's made his name providing so-called reparative therapy to LGBTQ folks in Texas and California. Pickup says that not being straight is often the result of longstanding issues of gender inferiority that often start in childhood.
Wednesday, Pickup said that if the senate didn't do anything to protect his right to fix gay people, he might be forced out of business. Reparative therapy for minors is banned in California, New Jersey, Illinois and Oregon.
Pickup was confronted by another speaker, Rev. Kim Rogers from Central Presbyterian in Austin, who told Pickup that reparative therapy has been discredited by major medical organizations like the American Psychological Association. This is true, although Pickup told the Observer in 2015 that the APA is only against what he does for political reasons.
Craig Estes, the state senator chairing the committee, quickly shut that argument down. "We aren't going to get into this," he said, just before closing the meeting.