AUSTIN — Legislation requiring photo identification to get a marriage license cleared the Senate on Tuesday by a 29-2 vote despite criticism that it could make it harder for many low-income couples to marry.Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, who both opposed the measure, compared the requirement to a controversial voter ID bill that cleared the Legislature in 2011 but was later struck down by a federal court.“It’s going to take away from people a very valuable, basic … right for people who love each other to be married if they can’t afford or don’t have the means to get a photo ID,” Davis said.Sen. Donna Campbell, R-San Antonio, said the bill was requested by county clerks, who issue marriage licenses and disputed comparisons to the voter ID controversy. She also disagreed with Davis’ contention that the bill could impose a burdensome cost on marriage.“I don’t feel like we’re going to disenfranchise anyone’s right to marry,” Campbell said. “This is a separate issue” from voter identification.The bill lists more than a half-dozen forms of identification that would satisfy the requirement, including a driver’s license, a passport and a concealed-handgun permit. An offender identification card issued by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice would also comply with the statute.Campbell said similar requirements are in force in 29 other states.“I don’t know that it’s financially precluding folks from getting married,” the Central Texas lawmaker said.Campbell said county clerks requested the law to “put a face with the name” when they issue marriage licenses. She said they want to be sure “that they’re really issuing a marriage license for the person whose name is going to be on the license.”Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia said the current law lists 19 forms of ID, including school records and insurance policies. “If this passes,” she said. “I will certainly be happy to apply the law as it comes down.”Davis and Rodriguez, resurrecting concerns aired during the volatile debates over a voter ID bill, said the requirement could discriminate against lower-income groups.Rodriguez told Campbell that he had “some serious issues” with the bill and would not support it.Davis said, “I’m not sure I understand the justification, the urgent need for demonstrating why people would need to have a photo ID in order for them to be married,” adding that the requirement would have “an unintended consequence” by preventing low-income couples from getting married.Davis said the voter ID law “created such a high bar that there was an inability of [people with] certain means, of certain backgrounds to be able to exercise a certain constitutional and fundamental right.”“I’m concerned your bill is going to do exactly the same,” Davis told Campbell.Lawmakers passed legislation requiring voters to have photo identification after a highly partisan debate that extended over two legislative sessions.Supporters, predominantly Republicans, said their constituents demanded the law to crack down on voter fraud while opponents, mainly Democrats, said it disenfranchised older and minority voters who could not afford to acquire identification.The Justice Department refused to approve the law under the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., struck down the law, ruling that it undercut minority participation in elections.
Dave Montgomery is the Star-Telegram’s Austin Bureau chief. 512-739-4471 Twitter: @daveymontgomery