In a rare if not unprecedented move for a Republican state legislator in Texas, Dallas Sen. John Carona expressed support for three key pieces of pro-equality legislation on Monday.
Carona told Instant Tea he would support bills in Texas to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment; offer domestic partner benefits to state university employees; and allow same-sex adoptive parents to have both names on birth certificates.
All three measures are expected to be priorities for Equality Texas, the statewide LGBT equality group, in the upcoming legislative session.
Carona also said he is “evolving” on same-sex marriage but added that he’s “not there yet.”
“I’m very undecided on the issue and I struggle with it,” Carona said of marriage equality. “I think the whole country is evolving, and I know for a fact that our young people are evolving including young Republicans.
“I can’t say that I’m there yet, that would be dishonest, but I can say that it’s a question that I find myself asking myself over and over,” Carona added. “What is the most conservative approach? Well, I’m always told less government, not more government, is better. What is the right thing? Well, I think anything that advances, encourages monogamy is a good thing. And frankly how could you be against people who want to get their affairs in order and have a loving household? So, yeah, I’m evolving, but admittedly I’m not there yet, nor do I believe the district is there yet, but times change and things may change.”
Carona made the comments in an exclusive interview with Instant Tea at the monthly meeting of Metroplex Republicans Dallas, where he was the featured speaker, at Mattito’s in Uptown on Monday night. Carona said although he has met with gay Republican groups like Metroplex many times over the years, his voting record has not always been supportive of the LGBT community because he also strives to represent the views of his conservative constituency in Senate District 12 in North Dallas.
But Carona also noted that during his 22 years in the Legislature – six as a state representative and the last 16 as a senator — he’s been an independent voice who is not afraid to go against the Republican establishment. He said while much of the focus seems to be on same-sex marriage and civil unions, he feels there are other issues where he can agree with the LGBT community.
“I don’t, for example, support any kind of discrimination in the workplace and in my own business, I employ a significant number of individuals who by their own admission and disclosure are gay, and that has no bearing in my view on their eligibility for hire or the recognition that we give them,” Carona said.
Asked whether he would back a statewide ban on anti-LGBT job discrimination, Carona said, “I would support that, and not only would I support it, but I already practice it in my own business.”
But Carona, who chairs the Senate Business and Finance Committee, stopped short of committing to carry the legislation in the Senate.
“I’m not sure I’d be prepared to sponsor it, but if it made it’s way to the Senate, I’d be prepared to vote in favor of it,” Carona said. “I reflect that policy in my business. We hire people based on qualification. It has nothing to do with their sexual preference.”
Carona is the founder and CEO of Associations Inc., or Associa, a large national holding company for HOA management companies. He said his business, which has 8,000 employees across the U.S., offers domestic partner benefits in several states but not currently in Texas due to cost. But he said he would support offering the benefits in the University of Texas and Texas A&M University systems.
“I support domestic partnership benefits,” Carona said.
Carona also said he would vote in favor of a bill to allow same-sex adoptive parents to have accurate birth certificates. Current Texas law says birth certificates must contain the names of one male and one female. Carona noted that he’s the father of two adopted children, in addition to three biological children.
“I understand how important it is that children be adopted, and I think that the argument that a child is somehow better off in foster care or the state’s custody as opposed to having two loving parents, even if those two loving parents are of the same sex, is a wrongheaded argument, and I think kids need a loving home regardless of what the sexual orientation might be of the individuals involved,” Carona said.
Carona is unopposed in the Nov. 6 election.