Texas Republicans could take new stand on same-sex marriage

Gay Marriage and the Supreme Court

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Racing both a U.S. Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and legislative deadlines, Texas Republicans pushed ahead Tuesday toward putting the state at the forefront of resistance if same-sex weddings are ruled constitutional.

Nearly every Republican in the Texas House is backing a measure that would prohibit state and local officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Less than three weeks remain in Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's first session, and the bill must clear the House by midnight Thursday to advance.

If signed by Abbott, the bill would aim to defy the Supreme Court if it legalizes gay marriage, laying the groundwork for Texas to potentially raise new legal battles over its ability to regulate marriage licenses.

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Texas Republicans could take new stand on same-sex marriage
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: A gay marriage waves a flag in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: Supporters for and against gay marriage gather in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriages cheer outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO / MLADEN ANTONOV (Photo credit should read MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 25: Supporters for and against gay marriage gather in front of the Supreme Court Building June 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is expected rule in the next few days on whether states can prohibit same sex marriage, as 13 states currently do. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: A couple poses for a photo near the Supreme Court, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, with decisions expected in June. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Opponents of same-sex marriage demonstrate near the Supreme Court, April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. On Tuesday the Supreme Court will hear arguments concerning whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, with decisions expected in June. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Pro and anti-gay rights protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Pro and anti-gay rights protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Protesters hold pro-gay rights signs outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
Supporters of same-sex marriages gather outside the US Supreme Court waiting for its decision on April 28, 2014 in Washington, DC. The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether gay couples have a constitutional right to wed -- a potentially historic decision that could see same-sex marriage recognized nationwide. (Photo credit Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images)
Plaintiff James Obergefell speaks about his case before tomorrow's arguments at the US Supreme Court April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin (R) speaks about Plaintiff's James Obergefell (L) case before tomorrow's arguments at the US Supreme Court April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. Tomorrow the high court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Anti-gay marriage protesters gather in front of the US Supreme Court Building April 27, 2015 in Washington, DC. The high court is scheduled to hear arguments April 28, in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, that will ultimately decide whether states will still be allowed to ban same sex marriage and refuse to recognize the rights of couples married in other states. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
People camp on the sidewalk outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015 in Washington, DC, to attend the April 28, 2015, US Supreme Court session regarding gay marriage. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J.RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold a pro-gay rights flag outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, countering the demonstrators who attended the March For Marriage in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage protest outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the DC Sisters, the Abbey of Magnificent Intentions, wait for protesters from the March For Marriage outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters in the March For Marriage arrive outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
A Supreme Court Police Officer approaches a protester wearing a Michelle Obama mask, in a area not allowed for protesters, as the March For Marriage goes on outside the US Supreme Court April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Demonstrators with Official Street Preachers hold up anti-homosexual placards in front of the White House in Washington, DC, April 26, 2015. The lengthy fight to allow gay marriage across America may soon be at an end with the Supreme Court set April 28 to consider whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed. Already legal in 37 of the country's 50 states and in the capital Washington, experts say it seems inevitable that the nation's top court will recognize gay marriage. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
Participants in the March For Marriage pray outside the US Supreme Court on April 25, 2015, in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets on April 28 to hear arguments on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo credit Paul J. Richards, AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Pro-gay rights protesters kiss outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 28: Protesters hold pro-gay rights flags outside the US Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Supreme Court meets to hear arguments whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to wed in the United States, with a final decision expected in June. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)
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"It would certainly put the state in a position to challenge," said Republican state Rep. Cecil Bell, who filed the bill shortly after a Texas judge allowed a lesbian couple to wed despite a statewide ban on gay marriage.

The Alabama Supreme Court earlier this year already prohibited county officials in that state from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Lawmakers in South Carolina are also pushing a bill similar to what was filed in Texas, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks gay rights issues.

Abbott didn't give hot-button social issues legislative priority after taking office in January. But with the Texas Legislature now close to adjourning, Republicans have accelerated legislation that gay rights activists consider hostile. This week began with the Senate giving approval for clergy members to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs.

That bill was filed on the same day last month that the Supreme Court heard arguments in the landmark gay marriage case - and long after a Senate deadline for new legislation.

It's not as divisive as religious objection measures in Indiana and Arkansas that set off intense blowback earlier this year. Texas gay rights activists say they can live with the clergy bill - which they consider redundant - but the restrictions over marriage license have them on edge.

"It's shocking that Texas lawmakers are pursuing a path that would set up this showdown," said Rebecca Robertson, the legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas.

That Bell's bill already has so much support in the Texas House - which is more moderate, at least by the standards of Texas politics - signals that the Senate would also favorably greet the measure. The session ends June 1.

Some legal experts question the success Texas would have raising challenges over state sovereignty, saying those arguments have already been made to the Supreme Court in the current case.

"Any kind of appeal or challenge the state would bring would bring a fairly summary rejection by the Supreme Court," said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. "I don't know what purpose it serves."

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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