"My Jesus is different," says State Rep. Celia Israel, who happens to be a lesbian, taking a swipe at her anti-gay colleagues in epic fashion in a new documentary about the role of religion in the Texas Legislature.
"Everyone in Texas is made in the image of God, and because everyone is made in the image of God, that is serious business, it's almost like representing God, and who would want to blow that opportunity?" -GOP state Rep. James White
"God and Governing," produced by The Texas Tribune, could just as easily be an episode of The Daily Show, featuring right-wing lawmakers discussing how their faith (read: conservative Christianity) influences their views on the issues of guns, abortion, gay marriage and education.
But Israel, who's Catholic herself and became the state's first out lesbian lawmaker in 2014, rejects the notion that the Lone Star State should be a theocracy.
"The way we get things done here is not by reading the Bible, it's by reading the rules of the floor of the House of Representatives," Israel says. "All of this is not of God. All of this is a manmade institution that's designed to do good things. For me, this is a secular environment. We're not a church. We're in the Texas State Capitol trying to do good things.
"When someone is introducing anti-gay legislation and you happen to be gay, it's hard not to take it personally," Israel says later. "I'm doing the best I can to not let these issues be personal and respect their view, but I was raised a different way, and my Jesus is different."
The comments of Israel and other Democrats are presented in response to numerous Republicans who indicate their personal theologies are paramount when it comes to lawmaking. Although four percent of Texans are Jewish or Muslim, and one in five are nonbelievers, all but four of the state lawmakers who responded to the Tribune said they're Christian. (Texas has 150 representatives and 31 senators).
And while only three percent of Texans believe guns, abortion or same-sex marriage are the most important issues facing the state, the Legislature spent much of this year's session focused on those topics, with religion more prominent at the Capitol than at any other time in recent memory.
"Everyone in Texas is made in the image of God, and because everyone is made in the image of God, that is serious business, it's almost like representing God, and who would want to blow that opportunity?" GOP state Rep. James White declares.
"A lot of times I look at as a fight for limited government, bringing government down so that God can be bigger, that there's more of a role for the church," says Rep. Jonathan Stickland, one of the state's most prominent Tea Partiers.
GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick indicates those views stretch to the highest levels of state government.
"Despite what anyone would want to say in the media, or anyone in the outside world to try to spin for their own purpose, we are still a Christian nation, and there are some people who want us to deny that," Patrick says.
And to Patrick and others, "a Christian nation" clearly shouldn't allow same-sex marriage.
Texas lawmakers introduced more than 20 anti-LGBT bills in this year's session, but all were defeated, largely due to opposition from the state's chamber of commerce. And based on the Tribune's interviews with right-wing lawmakers, it wasn't due to any lack of homophobic fervor on their part.
"I don't look at homosexuality any different than I would at an adulterer, a pornographer, those who are caught up in those lifestyles or bondage," says Sen. Charles Perry, the author of a bill aimed at undermining the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell. "We all have our demons to slay, but to be in that lifestyle and say I'm a self-professing Christian with no expectation of turning away, that's a direct violation of the Christian faith. This is a lifestyle and a choice and a decision, rather than an actual right that is granted to our pursuit of happiness."
Others told the Tribune they oppose same-sex marriage because they believe the institution was created by God, not government.
"I do believe it's revealed in the scripture that marriage is between one man and one women, but I also believe it's revealed in nature, and so I don't think it's government's right or responsibility to define marriage, but to recognize it," says GOP Rep. David Simpson.
Simpson delivers another gem when the subject turns to sex education. During this year's session, lawmakers unsuccessfully attempted to divert $3 million from HIV/AIDS prevention to abstinence-only education, resulting in a hilarious exchange on the House floor.
"If you're going to talk about sex and marriage and intercourse, it's best done with one's parents in the privacy of one's home, not when your hormones are really growling and moving in the classroom," Simpson says. "I remember that when I was in seventh grade, and you know, that's just so unnatural."
Watch the full special below.
Image: Screenshot via The Texas Tribune/YouTube
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