County governments almost never find themselves on the front lines of constitutional struggles, but you wouldn’t have known that had you attended the Hood County Commissioners’ Court hearing last Tuesday morning. At issue was the attempt by some local residents to remove from the public library two LGBT-tolerant children’s books, Princess Boy and This Day in June. After hours of impassioned debate, in the end what I witnessed was a big victory for the First Amendment over the threat of censorship.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality, LGBT issues are a contentious topic in the great state of Texas, and Hood County is no exception. The Hood County clerk, for example, made national headlines within the last month after being sued by a same-sex couple over her refusal to issue them a marriage license. Against that backdrop, the members of the Commissioners’ Court prepared for a long and vigorous debate, moved the item to the top of the agenda, and removed the time limit so that every resident of Hood County who wanted to could be heard.
I’ve seen sensationalist headlines describing conservative Christians “storming” the county meeting to try and remove the books, but that’s not quite what I witnessed. In fact, time and time again, residents approached the podium, asserted their Christian values, their deep roots in Hood County, their understanding of why someone would want the books censored, and then turned around and affirmed their neighbors’ constitutional right to have access to the books. The speakers weren’t just ticking off a list of politicized talking points. Rather, one by one the people of Granbury, Texas gave impassioned personal testimonies in defense of their venerated First Amendment.
One woman holding a stack of children’s Bible stories explained how one parent’s right to check out My Princess Boy was the same right that allows her to check out a children’s book explaining Noah’s Ark. A 96 year-old gentleman approached the panel on crutches, said he was “the most conservative person in the room,” and then pleaded with the court not to give in to censorship. Another resident with fire in her eyes and a thick Texas twang demanded that the books stay right where they are because she has a son who is “as gay as the day is long, and he is MY princess boy.”.
After three long hours and a seemingly endless list of speakers, the Commissioners’ Court made its ruling. Conscious of their grave civic responsibility, the commissioners explained that the books had to stay because each one of them had pledged to uphold the Constitution, and if they weren’t prepared to do just that then they would have to find a different job.
We’re told that the next fight for LGBT equality will be over “religious refusal” laws. But listening to the impassioned voices of the residents of Granbury, as well as to the commissioners entrusted to govern them, I’m confident that most Americans already know that the Constitution, much like the public library, has room enough for everyone.
Joe Swanson is a community organizer for the ACLU of Texas.