MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And we go now to Texas, where bills dealing with religion and same-sex marriage are being debated in the state legislature. One measure, which has passed the Texas Senate, aims to protect pastors who refuse to perform same-sex ceremonies. While this and other bills are controversial, they don't go as far as many conservatives would like. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports that's because big business got involved.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: There's been a raft of more than 20 anti-same-sex marriage bills that had been offered during this 84th section of the Texas legislature, but only two have come this far. Senator Craig Estes from Wichita Falls sponsored the bill extending certain legal protections to the clergy.
CRAIG ESTES: Clergyman came from all over the state to talk about this, and we want to make sure that they're not ever coerced into performing a marriage ceremony that would violate their sincerely-held religious beliefs.
GOODWYN: Critics of Estes's bill say the clergy are already protected by the division between church and state codified in the Texas Constitution. But Estes said he wanted to firm-up the legal language.
ESTES: There's really no place in Texas law where we specifically state - make this issue clear, and so I thought that was important for us to do that.
GOODWYN: Much of this is inspired by the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming decision on gay marriage expected in June. From the floor of the Texas House, Representative Cecil Bell has a bill that would bar state and local officials from issuing or recognizing same-sex marriages, which they already are barred from doing by Texas law and state Constitution, so really this is about the U.S. Supreme Court decision. Representative Cecil Bell.
CECIL BELL: House Bill 4105 asserts the sovereignty of the state to define and regulate marriage - that where the federal government clearly has no domain that those issues as our Constitution provides for be reserved by the states and by the people.
GOODWYN: In practice, these bills may do little legally. The one bill that would've advanced the anti-gay marriage agenda was a bill called the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It was modeled on the law that caused such a ruckus in Indiana.
BILL HAMMOND: That legislation is dead.
GOODWYN: Bill Hammond is the CEO of the Texas Association of Business, which includes some of the most politically powerful millionaires and billionaires in the state. On behalf of his members, Hammond worked to make sure that bill, which would've allowed widespread discrimination against gay couples based on religious convictions, never made it out of committee.
HAMMOND: Texas is scheduled to have the Final Four and the Super Bowl in the coming years. We believed that both of those events would've been withdrawn from Texas.
GOODWYN: If Texas politicians can afford to legislate with their base in mind, Texas business cannot. Texas business is international in scope and so cares deeply about how the state is perceived around the country. But Kathy Miller, president of the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, warns that it's more than just the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that's bad for business, that even these milder anti-gay marriage bills give Texas a bad name.
KATHY MILLER: The backlash came from discrimination, not just from religion being used as a mechanism for that discrimination. So I fear that our legislature may be being very shortsighted in thinking that they have dodged the backlash bullet.
GOODWYN: Neither of these bills are law yet. Both must pass the more moderate Texas House of Representatives, where some of the right's most strident legislation this session has gone to die. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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