AUSTIN — Texas filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court over a California law that prohibits official travel to states that California deems discriminatory against LGBTQ people, throwing into question whether the ban affecting 11 states can remain.
California lawmakers passed the travel ban in 2016 after North Carolina enacted a law that required people to use gender-specific bathrooms according to their sex at birth. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra added Texas to the list of prohibited travel states in 2017 after it passed a law allowing child welfare providers to refuse to carry out services that violate their religious beliefs. Becerra’s office at the time said the law allows discrimination against LGBTQ children and foster or adoptive parents.
The California ban punishes the state for allowing faith-based foster care and adoption agencies to uphold their religious beliefs, said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the lawsuit. He said the ban amounts to “economic sanctions” against Texas because it deprives the state of tax revenue from hotels and other businesses that would have made money from travel by Californians.
Paxton is asking the Supreme Court to overturn California’s travel ban because it is “infected with animus towards religion,” violates federal laws on interstate commerce and discriminates against Texas business owners.
Paxton, a Republican, pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to provide a cake for a same-sex couple as grounds for the lawsuit. The Texas attorney general has frequently championed religious liberty, refusing to defend a state agency that punished a judge who wouldn’t perform same sex marriages and suing over a federal regulation prohibiting discrimination against transgender patients.
“Texas respects and honors the religious beliefs of its citizens,” said Paxton in a Monday news release. “California lawmakers do not.”
Since 2016, California has banned state-sponsored travel to nearly a dozen states over laws that it says discriminates against gay and transgender people. Several states, including Oklahoma and Tennessee, have retaliated with their own bans on state-sponsored travel to California.
Under the ban, state employees, as well as academics and athletes from state universities, are prohibited from using state money for travel, though they can still raise money from other sources to make the trips. The move is intended to pressure conservative states to reverse laws in question and prevent states from passing new such laws.
“We’re reviewing the complaint,” said Becerra, a Democrat, in a statement. “In California, we have chosen not to use taxpayer money to support laws discriminating against the LGBTQ community.”
In the suit, Paxton cited several examples of canceled trips to Texas. In one instance, students from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo couldn’t travel to a Houston conference of minority architects.
Texas’ foster care system has separately come under scrutiny for failing to care for kids in state custody. A federal judge has repeatedly chastised the state for failing to reform its foster care system, which courts have found unconstitutional for putting kids at risk of violence.
Paxton’s “religious liberty excuses are a false argument to continue his clear and ongoing war on LGBTQ Texans, as evidenced by the dozens of actions he has taken against our community while in office,” said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Equality Texas.
The 2017 Texas foster care law “continues to hurt children who sleep in office buildings and die in the state’s care because there are not enough foster parents when a child could otherwise be adopted by loving LGBTQ parents,” he said.