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'Save Chick-fil-A' bill reignites LGBTQ opposition in Texas

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signaled he’ll sign the controversial bill, which critics say is discrimination cloaked in religion.
President Trump Holds Rally In Houston, Texas
Governor Greg Abbott of Texas addresses a crowd on Oct. 22, 2018, in Houston.Loren Elliott / Getty Images file

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has signaled he will sign legislation that Republicans say is a defense of Chick-fil-A and religious freedom, but gay lawmakers sometimes tearfully railed against it on the House floor as a license to discriminate.

The bill, given final approval Tuesday in the Texas House, was fast-tracked in the GOP-controlled Legislature in response to the San Antonio City Council stopping Chick-fil-A from opening a location in the airport of the nation's seventh-largest city.

Some council members said they were taking a stand over the fast-food company's values: Chick-fil-A's owners have donated to anti-LGBTQ causes, and councilmember Roberto Trevino said in March that the city does "not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior."

But 80 miles north in the Texas Capitol, Republicans swiftly responded with a bill that would prohibit cities from taking "adverse action" against an individual based on contributions to religious organizations. Opponents slammed the measure, which is likely to reach Abbott's desk before the legislative session ends Monday, as duplicating existing religious freedom protection and said it would only stoke discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

The bill reignited battles over divisive social issues that Texas Republicans have largely sought to avoid after an unusually rough election year for them in 2018. Two years ago, the Legislature was upended by a "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people, and LGBTQ lawmakers said during emotional floor speeches Monday that they've had enough.

"I'm tired of this," Democratic state Rep. Celia Israel, who spoke at length about the impact of such measures on LGBTQ youth. "It's been cloaked in religious freedom but the genesis and the nexus of this bill is in hatred."

Republicans pushed back, saying the bill contained no discriminatory language. Abbott teased in a tweet that he would sign the legislation.

"Should any city council be able to refuse me as a vendor in their city simply because I make donations to my church, which holds a biblical view of marriage?" Republican state Rep. Matt Schaefer said.

When another lawmaker said the First Amendment would already protect him, Schaefer shot back: "That's not what happened to Chick-fil-A."

In March, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said he would investigate San Antonio's decision to deny Chick-fil-A a location. But in a late change, the bill now advancing to Abbott stripped a provision that would have allowed the attorney general to file lawsuits enforcing the law.

In a statement shared with NBC News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for Chick-fil-A stressed that the company was not involved with this bill "in any way."

"We are a restaurant company focused on food and hospitality for all, and we have no social or political stance," the spokesperson stated. "We are grateful for all our customers and are glad to serve them at any time. We welcome and embrace all people, regardless of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.”