AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As legal questions surrounding gay rights become major issues in Texas, Republicans running for the top statewide offices unanimously oppose expanding protections based on sexual orientation.
Barring any major election upsets next year by Democrats, the Republicans vying for statewide office are unlikely to soften those stances if elected.
An Associated Press survey shows that GOP candidates support the state's gay marriage ban and most say local ordinances that prohibit gay discrimination violate other people's freedom of religion. Some candidates also say gays, lesbians and the transgendered don't face significant discrimination.
"To my knowledge, employers generally do not ask about a person's sexual orientation. The state of Texas certainly does not," said Attorney General Greg Abbott, an early favorite to become Texas' next governor. But he added that "both the U.S. and Texas Constitutions protect faith-based organizations from being coerced into employing persons in a way that would require them to violate their faith."
The AP sent six questions on gay rights to the Republican candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. No Democrats have announced their candidacy for those posts, but the Texas Democratic Party endorses full civil rights and protections for gays, including the right to marry.
The responses come as the gay rights debate in Texas has heated up the last few weeks. The Texas National Guard recently refused a Pentagon directive to process applications for military benefits for same-sex couples, citing the state law that does not recognize gay marriage. The state's GOP heavyweights also waged a fervent yet unsuccessful effort to block San Antonio from becoming the latest Texas city to pass a discrimination ordinance protecting gays.
Abbott was the only candidate who answered all of AP's questions, while others submitted statements addressing some of the issues. Many refused to discuss whether to protect homosexuals from discrimination — such as denying them employment or services at a business. Others said that protecting gays from discrimination would infringe on the freedoms of those whose religions condemn homosexuals.
"Sadly, in a culture infected with political correctness, people of faith are targeted for defending their beliefs with no consideration of their First Amendment rights," said Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is running for re-election. "I will continue to stand with my fellow Texans in defending our God-given, constitutionally protected freedoms."
It's an issue that gay rights advocates have lobbied lawmakers to address on a statewide level. Many cities such as Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth and Austin have such local ordinances.
"A statewide statute is necessary because people are being discriminated against based on their actual, or even their perceived, sexual orientation or gender identity," said Chuck Smith, executive director of the gay rights group Equality Texas. "Everyone has a sexual orientation, that's not a lifestyle. This is an implication that being gay is a choice, which I think is inaccurate."
Barry Smitherman, a candidate for attorney general, refused to answer any of AP's questions. His opponent, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, issued only a single sentence through his spokesman Chris Elam: "Commissioner Patterson strongly believes that marriage is between one man and one woman."
Here are additional candidate responses:
Do you believe that people have a right to treat homosexuals differently than heterosexuals in public spaces?
— Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, candidate for attorney general: "I do not believe in elevating sexual 'rights' to be superior to religious freedom and freedom of conscience. Such rights are enumerated nowhere in the Texas or U.S. Constitution, unlike religious freedom ... the very reason many pilgrims came to this country and eventually founded our great nation. People have the freedom to live their life how they wish and to arrange for contractual relationships as they prefer."
— Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, candidate for lieutenant governor: "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman as do the people of Texas, who have spoken loud and clear on this issue. Every American should be treated equally, but no one should be given special treatment under the law because of their sexual preference."
Do you support equal civil rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens?
— Tom Pauken, candidate for governor: "Current statutes adequately address the issue of equality before the law and I would oppose laws that provide preferential treatments based on lifestyle choices."
— Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, candidate for attorney general: "If I am entrusted by the voters of Texas to serve as their next Attorney General, I will faithfully and vigorously defend the constitutional rights of all Texans, and uphold the laws as written by the legislature and interpreted by the judiciary."
Do you believe that homosexuality is a disorder that requires treatment?
— Abbott: "I am not a doctor, a scientist or God. I cannot render judgment on a person's sexuality. I can, however, refer you to the American Psychological Association on the matter."
Do you believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry or have a civil union?
— Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, candidate for lieutenant governor: "As the author of the constitutional amendment which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, my position on same sex marriage is clear. I support our Texas law and constitution, which prohibit the state recognition of same sex marriage as well as the conferring or correlating benefits from governmental entities."
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