What a week!
What happened Friday was a historically momentous step forward for civil rights in our country. What happened the day before was also of historical importance, preserving access to health care insurance for millions, a decision that literally could be the difference between life and death for some people. What happened throughout the course of the week reaffirmed that the law is on the side of progress and equality, even if the progress is slow and painful.
The two Supreme Court rulings, King v Burwell, which upheld federally run insurance exchanges, and Obergefell v Hodges, which upheld the right to marry for same sex couples, captured the nation’s attention, but also this week:
▪ The Supreme Court ruled in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project that “claims of racial discrimination in housing cases shouldn’t be limited by questions of intent.” In other words, if you have facts and data to show that certain policies perpetuate housing discrimination, you don’t need to have the memo where parties are bluntly stating their intent to discriminate. The case came out of Texas, where a group sued the TDHCA for awarding too many tax-credits for housing in predominantly black neighborhoods, and too few in white neighborhoods.
▪ The Texas Supreme Court decided that the state was not able to interfere in a private divorce petition between a same-sex couple. The case underscored the importance of recognizing all marriages; to do otherwise improperly inserts the state into the very private affairs of Texas families, and makes sensitive family matters, like a divorce, all the more painful. This decision was a small step in the right direction — the Supreme Court’s decision on Friday was a much bigger step.
About that decision
The Obergefell decision affirms a sentiment I think a majority of Americans now recognize, that all people, gay or straight, should be permitted to build a family undisturbed by the government, and to make a lifelong commitment before their community to the person they love. Denying any person the right to participate in equal dignity in an institution as fundamental to American life as marriage is contrary to our nation’s values. Denying this right is now and has always been unconstitutional.
I congratulate couples who celebrated their nuptials in El Paso County in particular. While others across the state are still attempting to obstruct gay and lesbian couples from exercising their constitutional rights, I take great pride in knowing I represent a community that fully embraces equality for all its citizens.
Still, we must recognize that today’s decision is not the bookend to the LGBT rights movement. Here in Texas, we now add the state’s marriage ban to the list of antiquated anti-gay laws that must be repealed by our legislature. We must also ensure that lingering discrimination, especially in the employment, public accommodation, and family law spheres, is rooted out.
I join the LGBT community, and all Americans who value equality under the law, in celebration, and look forward to continuing to stand with them as a member of the Texas Senate.
Access to health care insurance
Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling in King v. Burwell will allow nearly one million Texans, including over 54,000 El Pasoans, who currently get coverage through the federal exchange to continue to receive affordable health care.
With this decision, the Supreme Court has upheld a cornerstone of the Affordable Care Act. If the Court had struck down this provision, it would have clearly contravened legislative intent and threatened access for over six million Americans, many of whom have health insurance for the first time.
The ACA is working, and millions of people are benefiting from the law whether through coverage for pre-existing conditions or improved access to primary and mental health services.
Now, we need to move onto the next step and craft a program that will allow us to accept billions in federal taxpayer dollars to provide affordable health care to the rest of our uninsured population in Texas, which still has the dubious distinction of having the most uninsured in the country.
Health care is a basic human need, and in the midst of great abundance, there is no good reason for members of our community to suffer from lack of access to care.
Progress comes eventually
In each of these cases, the state of Texas is resisting change, which is unfortunate. In each case, the change is helping make the lives of millions of people better.
Progress is slow, and the road forward can be grueling. But the history of our country shows us that eventually, we overcome. This week was further proof of that.
Editor’s Note: The main photo accompanying this op-ed was taken at a news conference held in El Paso following the Supreme Court’s Obergefell v Hodges ruling.