AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The tone was set early. The first exchange in Tuesday’s Texas House debate was between Representatives Matt Kraus and Raphael Anchia.
It was focused on a specific section of SB 1978. “Talks about, “or other support” provided to a religious organization?” Stated Rep. Anchia (D) Dallas.
Rep. Anchia is worried how, with a broad interpretation, those words could be misused.
“Is your intent to open the door to discrimination based on race,” asked Anchia.
There was a long pause and then a simple response from Representative Krause of, "No."
As the debate continued Rep. Anchia raised several different scenarios. “So a justice of the peace who belongs to a religious organization that did not believe in interracial marriage they could not refuse to marry someone under your bill, correct?” asked Anchia.
Rep. Krause did not give a specific answer to that question but spoke about why he believes the legislation is important. SB1978, known as the Save Chick-fil-A bill, gained momentum earlier this year after a vote by the San Antonio City Council against Chick-fil-A.
The Christian-owned restaurant wasn’t allowed to open at the airport because the company has financially supported organizations that are considered by some to be anti-gay.
“We want to make sure that if you give to the Salvation Army you are not labeled as bigoted or discriminatory,” said Rep Krause. The Fort Worth Republican sponsored the legislation because he considered the actions in San Antonio justified the need for the legislative protection.
“I just don’t want to get into this hypothetical because we don’t need to because of here in front of us is a concrete example of what this bill is trying to achieve,” said Krause.
Several House members stood with the LGBTQ caucus in opposition. “Religious freedom does not give us the right to impose our views on others,” said Carrollton Democrat Rep Michelle Beckley.
The debate at one point became emotional and deeply personal.
It was especially emotional for Austin Democrat Celia Israel. She is gay snd she fears the Bill will hurt kids. “By allowing this bill on the house floor you are giving sanction to those who would make these kids feel less than or weird or different,” said Israel during the debate.
Rep. Israel later restated her concern for young members of the LGBTQ community and for those who have not yet “come out.” “I didn’t want to let this day pass without me reassuring them we love you we care about you and Texas need you,” said Rep. Israel.
The bill passed on a vote of 79 to 62.
After the vote, Nicole Hudgens with Texas Values restated the vote is a victory for religious freedom - and only that. “We don’t want businesses to be attacked we don’t want people in Texas to be attacked because they have donated or are associated with a religious organization and that is what this bill is truly about,” said Hudgens.
The bill has one more procedural vote in the House Tuesday. After that it will be sent back to the senate to agree on a minor amendment. If that happens it will then go to the governor for his signature.