Yesterday, we drove to the Calvary Christian Academy, an evangelical school in Fort Worth, to attend what was billed as a legislative signing ceremony with Texas Governor Rick Perry. I didn't feel like I was at a political event. I felt like I was at mass. The ceremony was filled with praise for "pro-family, pro-life" groups and religious references. "I don't get confused about where God is," said Perry. "He's everywhere. He's over there, he's here. Matter of fact, we could be doing this in the parking lot of Wal-Marts and God would be there."
In his bid for a second term, Perry sent an email to thousands of "pro-family Christian friends" inviting them to the event. Those who agreed to be interviewed after the event told me birth control should be illegal, separation of church and state shouldn't exist and homosexuality is a sin.
About 350 protesters greeted attendees with signs reading, "Hate Is Not A Family Value," "I'm a Tolerant Christian," "Don't Ruin God's House" and "Separation Of Church And State."
Here are excepts of Perry's remarks and interviews with those who attended and protested yesterday's event.
Texas Governor Rick Perry
These are not Republican ideas. These are not Democrat ideas. It is an American virtue. That's what we are here celebrating today. (Applause) We may be on the grounds of a Christian school today, but our message speaks to all who believe in standing up for the unborn, all who cherish strong traditional families regardless of party, of ethnicity or creed. (Standing ovation) We're here because of a quiet majority. We're here because a quiet majority decided to have their voice heard and heard loudly, that understand that families are the building blocks of civilization, who recognize that marriage must be defended because it is the glue that binds the very fabric of society, who know that for families to thrive, parents must be involved in their children's decisions.
Mike Herrington, sixth generation Texan and member of Soulforce, an organization devoted to changing the minds or religious leaders who engage in anti-homosexual campaigns
We are beginning to learn that we have to speak out. I grew up on the idea that if you're nice, you don't ever say anything bad about anybody, but I don't feel like I'm saying anything bad. I'm just saying the truth. I'm also standing up for my own rights and I didn't used to do that. I think we're beginning to spread the message here in Texas: we have to be willing to take risks without doing anything wrong. The whole idea of a peaceful protest is not to break the law. Baptists, which I used to be, believe strongly in the separation of church and state and that's what's so contradictory about this whole thing. You can hardly call this separation of church and state.
Lisa Earley, fifth grade teacher from Grand Prairie, TX
My mother lives in San Francisco because she wanted a more liberal environment. I love the state of Texas, but what Perry is doing is wrong, not just for gay marriage, but for education. They've had three special sessions to fix education finance and all they've managed to do is get a bill passed to eliminate gay marriage that they can come sign in a church. I happen to be straight. I'm out here because this is wrong. They've got to maintain a separation of church and state. I go to church and I pray, but I don't want politics in my church.
What kind of activism works best in this environment?
This is my first protest. I'm just now becoming an activist. Things have become so bad with both Perry and Bush so I had to speak out. It's time for the Republican leadership to go. It's time for equality for everyone. And it's time for our children to have a stress free environment in which to learn. They shouldn't have to worry about whether there's enough money to keep the schools open. A school in this area almost had to close their doors because there's no money. No Child Left Behind in my book means lots of children left behind. They're retaining children and what happens is you get children who give up by the fifth grade because they can't pass a government mandated test. I'm a fifth grade teacher and I've seen it and it's wrong.
Maren Copeland, 48, director of nursing at Sycamore Care Center, a nursing home facility in Fort Worth, TX
How did the legislature's actions impact nursing homes?
We requested an increase of $12 per patient, per day in nursing home funding. Not only did Perry veto that, he took another $5 a day from every nursing home patient. This means the only nursing homes that are going to stay open are private paid facilities. Medicaid has a set rate. Most of our Medicaid patients require a lot of care and nothing is covered. We basically eat the cost. It's going to put the people who take Medicaid out of business. I'm sure Perry's family won't have to worry about the private pay system, but the majority of Texas taxpayers can't afford private pay nursing homes. The homeless and psychiatric population will increase. I'm seeing more and more young psychiatric patients in the nursing homes in Texas.
How will your job change as a result?
I may not have a job. These nursing homes will be out of business unless they're private. We can't run medicaid only facilities. Here's an example: you get a flat rate for a patient with bed sores. It doesn't include the dressings, the drainage bags, their feedings, it doesn't include anything extra. We wait for medicaid pending. Sometimes it takes six months to two years to receive the retro pay. During that time, it comes out of the pocket of the nursing home owner. We take people that nobody else will take. They would have no place to go. Staff often pays for supplies for patients, but that's not a reality for very long.
Do you think the public at large understands the scope of this problem?
No. The sad thing about it is, today, everybody here is for their own cause. We all need to care about the whole picture.
Do you come to these kinds of actions regularly?
This is the second one I've attended. I'll continue coming. Maybe we can make a difference. Many of our patients aren't able to attend these kinds of events. They're a silent majority. We're speaking out for them.
Cheryl Killian, owner of three small nursing homes and administrator at the Sycamore Care Center, a nursing home facility in Forth Worth, TX
How did the legislature's actions affect nursing homes specifically?
Nursing homes in Texas haven't had a rate increase in six years. One of those years we actually had a rate decrease. We're about 22 percent underfunded right now, per patient, per day. We're all digging into our own pockets and using our mortgages on our houses. I cashed in a little bit of savings that I had to make the payroll last month. It's very, very bad. This impacts 100,000 people in Texas nursing homes.
Do you receive government funding?
Almost 100 percent of my patients are on Medicaid. It's the Medicaid that's not giving us any rate increases so we came up with a federal matching program and had some bills proposed. We would have put in a business tax of so much per day and the federal government would have given twice as much back to us. It would have given us a 12 percent rate increase. The legislature passed it and everything was going well. Then a couple of days before the session was over, Governor Perry killed it even though it was all federal funding. Don't get me wrong. People are dying right now in Texas because of the underfunding. They're getting bed sores and laying in their own waste because we can't afford to keep on going. It'll just keep deteriorating and deteriorating. This is my mission. I'll keep doing it until I have to shut the doors.
How long have you been doing this?
Is this the worst it's been?
It's never been this bad. We used to receive a cost of living increase every year, but they set it up for six years without an increase. A few years ago we got a decrease. This session they put in a five percent decrease. They're paying us $3.50 an hour for 24-hour skilled nursing care, medicines, supplies, activities, linens, housekeeping, housing and utilities. We're getting half of minimum wage for all of that.
How do you make up for the lost costs?
I put everything I have back into it. I can't abandon my patients.
How do you, as a Republican, feel about this?
I'm very disappointed. The state even said, we've got to have this money. It was brainless.
Are there any other Republicans out here protesting?
There are some other nursing home owners here and I assume they're Republican. All the people that work in nursing homes are probably Democrats making minimum wage. The people who own them are probably Republican.
Why aren't more Republicans out here with you? Their parents might end up in nursing homes someday.
They don't know. Nobody wants to go to a nursing home. It's not their issue. Maybe they're scared because they don't want to make anybody mad.
Were things better under a Democratic majority?
Oh yeah, but I'm a Republican. Don't get me wrong. I look for Republicans that have the sense to evaluate and be objective about a situation. I typically follow the Republican ideology, but I also look for Republicans that are more liberal and can see both sides of the issue.
Will you continue voting Republican?
I'm not voting for Perry.
Reverend Michael Piazza, Dean of the Cathedral of Hope, a gay and lesbian church in Dallas
What do you think of today's event?
It's ironic they're coming to a church for an event. Our point is that the religious right doesn't own God. You can be a Christian or person of deep faith and have very different views. One of the things that our organization has been trying to say is if you want to use the Bible and ban gay marriage, then ban divorce. The Bible says that. Of course, they're not doing that. What they're doing is trying to use the Bible to ban gay marriages and the Bible doesn't say anything about that. We do that to explain the hypocrisy of the whole thing and force them to explain how it is that they'll take a stand on one issue and ignore others. Our bottom line is churches oughta be able to marry whoever they choose to marry or not, but civil rights should be guaranteed for all taxpayers and gay people pay taxes. They should let us marry or give us our tax money back.
What do you think about the Governor signing these bills in a church?
From the President right on down, there's been a blurring of the lines of separation of church and state. That is so dangerous. We can condemn it when it's Islamic, but suddenly it's OK to be Texas Christian and blur the lines there. This is part of Governor Perry's reelection campaign. He's pandering to his core constituency, the radical religious right. He's going to have to pay the price by alienating middle of the road moderate Texans.
Do you think today's action is effective?
I think it is because people tend to think Texas is a monolithic state and it's just not true. George Bush barely won his hometown of Dallas where we elected a lesbian Democratic sheriff. It's not a monolithic state and we've got to take some of it back.
How big is your congregation?
We have 3500 members, mostly lesbian and gay, but a lot of heterosexual folks too.
How has your outreach changed over the years?
It was getting better until 9/11. After that, the right took over, but it'll eventually come back. In terms of gay marriage, those over 65 are opposed to it and those under 35 are in favor. Those who are in favor of gay marriage are more strongly in favor of it than those who are opposed to it, so time will take care of it. It's inevitable and this is a strong reaction to that.
When we usually go to protests, people shoot us the finger and say they love war. The average Texan doesn't want to know what's really happening. They want to close their eyes and say Bush is doing the best he can do.
Because we're so surrounded by Republicans, they label us as being angry. A lot of people tell me, get over it. Let them do their job. Problem is, they're not doing their job.
Lanore Dixon, drove 55 miles to attend the event - Web designer from Blum, a rural area
Why'd you drive so far to take part in this event?
It lets people know that there are people like me that have the same views and that is what is empowering. The more of us that are out there in the public letting people know that they're not alone, the more numbers we'll gain.
Have you always been political?
No. There's always been a taboo about talking politics in social situations and family gatherings. That has handcuffed us as activists. We can't talk about any opinion that's different. We're gonna have to face the uneasiness in our families. We're gonna have to risk being the black sheep that dares to open their mouth at Thanksgiving or Christmas or birthday parties. If we don't, we really are going to lose democracy. We have to make it where it's not taboo to talk about our values. My husband's family gets antsy when I talk about politics. Too bad. They're not gonna shut me up. This is my country, too and they have to listen. My goal is to turn Texas blue again. We need pointers on how to organize and how to inspire each other.
Nancy Blanding, Hurst, TX
My vote never counts. At my age, it's really important for my vote to count. I'm ready to move to another state just so my vote will count. I've lived here for 30 years. When you're a Democrat, you find other Democrats. It's heartwarming to see a Kerry sticker left on cars. We need to start finding people who don't vote and bring them to events like this.
Bryan Hartmann, executive director and political consultant for the Democratic Arlington Political Action Committee, a group that began three weeks ago
We don't have enough activism. I don't think Democrats are doing enough to speak out. Democrats need support. We need the tools and resources to do these things. That's why I've started this PAC. I like Howard Dean's strategy because it focuses on all 50 states, rather than the states that are just winnable. We really need a strategy like that. There are a lot of Democrats in Texas. I'm not budding heads with the party. I'm trying to get Democrats elected and that requires activism. We've taken a lot of things for granted. Democrats controlled this state for a long time.
How do you feel about the fact that most national politicians write off Texas?
It's easy to write us off because Republicans dominate here. There's an opposition as you can see here. I have not seen something like this in quite some time. You don't see this many people out at these kinds of events. This proves that people are fed up. They're tired and they're hurting. It's exciting to see. People aren't going to tolerate this much longer and I think that goes for moderate Republicans as well.
What did you think of today's event?
I'm very impressed with the governor and the representation of the American people, especially the Texans. Too many times we've kept quiet and now it's time to speak up and praise God, that's what we're doing. It's wonderful.
I interviewed protesters, including a woman who runs nursing homes. Her funding has been cut. How do you feel about those issues?
Under the due process of our laws and here in Texas, those situations will be handled, just as this one was handled. It took a long time. We have to have confidence. If we get out there and work together, we can make it happen.
The woman who runs the nursing homes is also a Republican. She said she tried to work with lawmakers and got nowhere. She says her patients are dying.
I'm sure they are. People have been dying for years. Does she care about the babies who are dying from abortions?
How do you feel about prevention and giving women the information and resources they need so they don't have an unwanted pregnancy? With the exception of chastity, I didn't heard anyone talk about preventing unwanted pregnancies at today's event.
Isn't that amazing. Well, don't get yourself in a position where you'll get pregnant.
Why is prevention always left out of these conversations? Why doesn't the governor spend more time talking about preventing unwanted pregnancies?
Because prevention requires people to know what's right and wrong and a lot of people don't know what's right. Prevention is caused by education.
What did you think of today's event?
I loved it because it put God first and thats what we're here for. God first, life second.
What do you think about the bills?
I've been against abortion from day one. If I had a daughter in that position, I want to have the right to be with here. If I want to have that right, I figure everyone else does too.
How do you feel about prevention?
Abstinence was talked about today.
Are you in favor of abstinence-only?
I talked to some of the protesters out here who are concerned about separation of church and state. How do you feel about that?
I go to church and I'm a member of the state so how can I separate myself? There shouldn't be a separation.
How do you feel about the educators and nursing home advocates here who say the government failed them?
I don't know anything about that.
Sue Laux, member of a Catholic group that promotes chastity
How do you feel about prevention?
That is a big part of what we do. The Governor briefly talked about chastity.
Does your group work on prevention?
Yes, we just had a whole pro-life weekend and we had chastity speakers.
Does your group take a stance on birth control?
Yes, we are against contraception. We believe in natural family planning and abstinence.
Don't you think you'd prevent even even more unwanted pregnancies by advocating for birth control?
We believe in abstinence only. People can do it. They can. They're just not held to a standard.