Texas faith leaders gather in support of marriage equality

Rev. Michael Diaz, center, from Metropolitan Church in Houston, and other faith leaders and congregation members of various churches from around the state rally on the step of the Texas Capitol steps to call for more equality for same-sex couples, Tuesday, Feb. 17, 2015, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Copyright 2015, The Associated Press

EVA RUTH MORAVEC, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Faith leaders rallied for marriage equality Tuesday at the Texas Capitol, seeking to convince lawmakers that expanding rights to gay, bisexual and transgender couples won't compromise their religious beliefs.

"We demand equality!" chanted attendees, many of whom wore colorful liturgical vestments and held signs stating they were Methodist, Jewish, Unitarian, Baptist and Presbyterian. About 150 people traveled to the Capitol for the rally, sponsored by the advocacy group the Texas Freedom Network.

Minister Leslie Jackson of the Houston United Church of Christ said that equality is "God in action," adding that "LGBT equality is not a distant cousin to faith, it is its progeny."

Rev. Eric Folkerth, from Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, praised his city's non-discrimination ordinance, adding that equality at work is also important. The Dallas statute that protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination in employment and housing has been in place since 2002; a similar ban in Houston is caught up in a legal battle.

"Less government involvement in our lives leaves us free to love who we love," said Claire Bow, a transgender woman from Austin. "The real trick is getting legislators to see the effects of the things they put into law."

Following the rally, attendees filtered into the Capitol to meet with lawmakers on a variety of bills. Several, filed by Democrats, would support equality by barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in realms like public schools and insurance policies. Dallas Rep. Eric Johnson proposed a measure that would give the Texas Workforce Commission the power to investigate claims of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

But through other proposals, Republicans have shown that equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Texans may be untenable for now.

Magnolia Republican Rep. Cecil Bell's bill, called the "Preservation of Sovereignty and Marriage Act," has the support of 41 Republican House members. It would ban the use of taxpayer money to license same-sex marriages and ban government employees from recognizing, granting or enforcing same-sex marriage licenses.

The constitutionality of Texas' ban on same-sex marriage is currently before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

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