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Texas House passes bill to protect pastors who refuse to marry gay couples

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A bill clarifying that clergy members have the right to refuse to conduct marriages violating their beliefs tentatively passed the Texas House 141-2 Thursday.

Critics argue the so-called Pastor Protection Act, Senate Bill 2065, is aimed at making it tougher for same-sex couples to marry in Texas, should the U.S. Supreme Court legalize gay marriages. The bill’s author, state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, has said the bill is about protecting pastors “who have a strong religious belief ” against same-sex marriage.

The bill passed out of the Senate earlier this month on a 21-10 vote, with one Democrat joining Republicans in support.

Yet most Democrats in the Texas House voted for the bill, and made it clear Thursday that they believe the measure protects religious institutions supporting gay marriage as well as those that oppose it.

“I truly believe that there is space for LGBT justice and religious freedom and this, I feel, is the space for that,” said state Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, who has called herself the only openly pan-sexual elected official in the nation.

State Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said in a speech supporting the bill that she will one day marry her longtime lesbian partner in Texas. Pastors that don’t support their union shouldn’t worry about her trying to get them to conduct the ceremony, she said. SB 2065, Israel argued, would ensure that a clergy member that wants to support the ceremony can.

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“This Roman Catholic urges you to vote yes,” Israel said.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Equality Texas withdrew its opposition to the measure and encouraged House Democrats to vote for it.

The bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Scott Sanford, R-McKinney, described the bill as “a shield and not a sword” and noted that it did not change “the role of state government in issuing marriage licenses.”

State Rep. Patricia Harless, R-Spring, said the bill was about protecting pastors who feared what may happen in the future related to marriage and the law.

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“Maybe pastors won’t be sued but we need some protection in case they are,” Harless said.

The two “no” votes on the bill were state Reps. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Armando Walle, D-Houston.

During the House debate, Canales asked Sanford about what situation the bill was trying to prevent, as he was not aware of a situation in which a religious clergy member has been prosecuted for not marrying a couple.

“I don’t think you should force somebody to marry anybody,” Canales said.

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If the bill receives final approval in the House, it will go to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. Abbott has indicated he will sign the bill.

By Aman Batheja, The Texas Tribune

Report typos and corrections to [email protected].
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2020 Election

WATCH: Katie Porter explains to constituents why her conscience demands support for Trump impeachment inquiry

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Congresswoman Katie Porter, in a video posted on social media Monday night, shared with residents of her purple California district why she is joining dozens of other Democrats who support launching an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

"I didn't come to Congress to impeach the president," said the first-term representative. "But when faced with a crisis of this magnitude, I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution. I can't claim to be committed to rooting out corruption and putting people over politics and then not apply those same principles and standards in all of the work I do."

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There is growing concern that China is trying to use universities to silence its critics in the West

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This is an important year in Chinese history. It marks the anniversaries of two political movements involving students and scholars: the May Fourth Movement and the Tiananmen Square protests – known in China as the June Fourth Incident.

The May Fourth Movement of 1919 challenged traditional Chinese values and authorities and demanded freedom of speech and democracy. Seventy years later – and 40 years after the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had taken power – students, scholars, and other citizens mobilised again in defence of freedom of speech, human rights, and democratic values. But on June 4 1989, the CCP brutally crushed their movement. The crackdown created a legacy of heavily censored wrongs that cannot be righted while the current system lasts.

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A massive power outage like Argentina’s could happen in the US

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Argentina and Uruguay are recovering from nationwide power blackouts that cut electricity to tens of millions of people, including some in Paraguay, Chile and Brazil. The blackout’s cause is under investigation, but something similar could happen in the U.S. – and has.

On Aug. 14, 2003, a software bug contributed to a blackout that left 50 million people across nine U.S. northeastern states and a Canadian province without power. The outage lasted for as long as four days, with rolling blackouts in some areas for days after that.

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