If there’s one thing we’ve learned nearly six months into 2017, it’s that we live in an era of alternative facts, where it’s becoming increasingly more common (and dare we say acceptable) to assert false claims as the truth. So over the weekend, when Texas lawmakers passed HB 3859, a bill allowing those who work in state-funded child welfare organizations the ability to refuse their services to families or persons whose lifestyle or religious beliefs do not align with their own, we know better than to believe this is simply a move to expand religious freedom. The passing of this bill comes just days after the Texas House voted to pass SB 522, a bill allowing county clerks to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples also on the basis of religion, proving that more than anything, these bills are taxpayer-funded, law-abiding discrimination disguised as freedom.
The passing of both of these bills is only the beginning of a long line of legislation targeting LGBTQ rights. But that's not all who will be hurt by these measures. HB 3859 could also allow adoption agencies to deny the right to adopt or foster to single parents, interfaith couples and those who are married but have been divorced. And for a state whose child welfare system has been fraught with peril — according to the ACLU, last year 252 children died while in the care of the state due to abuse and neglect — it’s hard to see why they’re placing the religious needs of the people who work in Texas’ child welfare system ahead of the needs of the children who are in it.
Yet, Texas lawmakers maintain a promise to consider the child's best interests, citing: “Decisions regarding the placement of children shall continue to be made in the best interest of the child, including which person is best able to provide for the child’s physical, psychological and emotional needs and development.” However, supporting legislation that not only promotes discrimination, but also affects the number of available applicants will banish children who are eager to find a family to a troubled life in the system while a family with a loving home has a house that remains empty.
According to CNN, the author of the bill included a mandate to offset any claims about the discriminatory nature of this bill by providing assistance to the families who are rejected by means of this legislation — an alternative of sorts to equal protection under the law, which the constitution guarantees but this bill somehow violates. And in a similar move, under SB 522, the county would be held responsible for ensuring other clerks are available to issue marriage licenses if one of their clerks opts out.
Now that SB 522 and HB 3859 have passed the House and the Senate, the bills await a signature from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. But with the timing coming more than two weeks after President Trump signed an executive order to promote religious liberty, it's expected they will be signed and enacted into law.
Unfortunately, this feels like only the beginning of what's to come in Texas and in other states across the country whose lawmakers continue to attack LGBTQ rights. We must continue to fight and spread the word. So if you're looking to get involved or make a donation, check out the ACLU of Texas, the Human Rights Campaign, Freedom for All Americans and Equality Texas.