The revelation could help explain Saenz’s seemingly abrupt transformation from socially conservative lobbyist to homophobic firebrand.
Saenz, a devout Catholic, has been a right-wing operative in Texas for many years — working on abortion and religious liberty cases as a staff attorney for the Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute as far back as 2005.
However, it wasn’t until recently that Saenz emerged as one of the state’s best-known — and most extreme — anti-LGBT voices.
Court records indicate that Saenz’s ex-wife, Corrine Morris Rodriguez Saenz, is a member of the LGBT community who was dating another woman when she filed for divorce from Saenz in August 2011.
In early 2012, with their divorce still pending, Saenz would take the helm of Texas Values after the organization spun off from the Liberty Legal Institute, where he’d risen to chief lobbyist.
With Saenz as president, Texas Values has led the charge against not only same-sex marriage, but also passage of LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in San Antonio and Houston. In fighting the ordinances, Saenz has often repeated the debunked right-wing myth that sexual predators would use the laws to prey on women and children in bathrooms.
Saenz helped push an amendment to the 2014 Texas GOP platform endorsing the discredited practice of gay conversion therapy. In media interviews, Saenz has stated that same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy and people marrying their stepchildren, and suggested that gay activists want to put Christians in concentration camps. Last week, Texas Values filed an amicus curiae brief calling on a federal appeals court to overturn a district judge’s decision striking down the state’s marriage bans.
Neither Jonathan Saenz nor his attorney in the divorce, Cecilia M. Wood, responded to requests for comment for this story. Corrine Saenz’s attorney, Bryan E. Eggleston, declined comment and said his client didn’t wish to be interviewed.
Jonathan and Corrine Saenz now share custody of their two sons and one daughter, all still under the age of 10.
During their divorce, Jonathan Saenz unsuccessfully sought to permanently bar Corrine Saenz’s girlfriend from being in the presence of the children, records show. At one point, he also sought to jail his ex-wife for failing to undergo an evaluation by a psychologist of his choosing—even though he refused to pay the psychologist’s $2,500 fee.
Both Corrine and Jonathan Saenz agreed to psychological evaluations as part of the divorce, but results aren’t included in the case file. However, court records suggest Jonathan Saenz had a prior history of mental health treatment. During discovery in the divorce, Jonathan Saenz sought to compel his ex-wife to produce all records in her possession “pertaining to the psychiatric, psychological, counseling or other mental health treatments of Jonathan Saenz, including but not limited to any documents relating to any consultations or treatments during their marriage.”
Jonathan and Corrine Saenz were married on Aug. 10, 2002. They separated on July 20, 2011, and Corrine Saenz filed for divorce on Aug. 2, 2011, according to records from Hays County’s 274th Judicial District. The records, which span hundreds of pages, show the divorce didn’t become final until two years later — on Aug. 1, 2013.
In her original petition for divorce, Corrine Saenz alleged their marriage was “insupportable due to discord or conflict of personalities … that destroys the legitimate ends of marriage and prevents reasonable expectations of reconciliation.” In his initial response, Jonathan Saenz denied that claim and asked the court to refuse to grant the divorce on those grounds.
Jonathan Saenz also sought an order barring Corrine Saenz from allowing “any unrelated adult, with whom the parent has an intimate, romantic, emotional, and/or dating relationship to remain in the presence of the children, including but not limited to Ercimin Paredes, a/k/a Ercilia M. Paredes.”
Paredes was Corrine Saenz’s girlfriend, court records indicate, and they both taught at Becker Elementary School in the Austin Independent School District.
According to an interim court order dated Feb. 2, 2012, Jonathan Saenz’s request was granted. The order barred Paredes “from being in the presence of the children, including in the same building as the children; with the exception that she may be on the Becker campus in a different location from the children.”
The order also directed both Jonathan and Corrine Saenz to undergo evaluations by Austin psychologist Stephen Thorne, who had been chosen by Jonathan Saenz.
It’s unclear why Saenz picked Thorne, but according to reports, Thorne also does contract work for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, evaluating sex offenders for behavioral abnormalities.
On May 10, 2012, Jonathan Saenz’s attorney filed a Motion for Enforcement alleging that Corrine Saenz had violated the February orders by failing to undergo an evaluation with Thorne.
The motion sought “all appropriate relief for all violations shown upon hearing including, but not limited to, a fine of not more than $500, or confinement in the county jail for not more than six months, or both for each violation.”
The following month, Corrine Saenz filed motions seeking to modify the interim orders. The motions stated that Corrine Saenz wasn’t aware of Thorne’s “exorbitant” fee when she agreed to undergo an evaluation with him, and sought permission from the judge to use another mental health professional.
The motions also alleged that Corrine Saenz had asked Jonathan Saenz to pay Thorne’s fee — or agree to another psychologist — but he refused.
Corrine Saenz also sought to modify the order barring Paredes from having contact with the Saenzes’ children.
“Ms. Paredes is not a threat to the children or their welfare,” the motion stated. “The injunction against Ms. Paredes is an extreme attempt to merely further control Corrine M. Saenz.”
Corrine Saenz also alleged that Jonathan Saenz’s Motion for Enforcement contained “patently false allegations in an attempt to further harass and burden [her].”
In addition to seeking the order barring Paredes from being around the children, Jonathan Saenz’s attorney made discovery requests and issued subpoenas seeking information about Corrine Saenz’s relationship with her girlfriend.
In one discovery request, Jonathan Saenz’s attorney sought all records related to “travel, entertainment, meals or gifts with or for Ercimin Paredes.” Another discovery request sought any photos or videos showing Paredes with Corrine Saenz and the Saenzes’ children.
Jonathan Saenz’s attorney also issued a subpoena to the Austin Independent School District, seeking records of work schedules, trips, overnight trips and weekend work sessions involving Corrine Saenz and Paredes. The subpoena sought all records of any school-related travel by Paredes, and all electronic correspondence between Paredes and Corrine Saenz.
Jonathan Saenz’s attorney also issued a subpoena seeking records from the YMCA, including all dates and times when Corrine Saenz and Paredes used the facility, and whether the children were cared for in the ChildWatch program.
According to court records, Jonathan Saenz alleged that Corrine Saenz was “deeply involved in her relationship with Ms. Paredes as early as the fall of 2010.”
In a counterpetition for divorce dated May 7, 2013, Jonathan Saenz accused Corrine Saenz of adultery and sought a permanent order barring Paredes from being in the presence of the children.
But Jonathan Saenz was unsuccessful, and there is no mention of Paredes in the Agreed Final Decree of Divorce, which was hammered out through mediation.
According to the Final Decree, Jonathan and Corrine Saenz essentially split time with the children — Jonathan Jr., Jonah and Elia — who spend 3-4 days per week with each of their parents.
The Final Decree establishes the children’s primary residence as Jonathan Saenz’s home in Buda, and they are to attend Austin’s Cathedral School of St. Mary through the eighth grade.
Jonathan and Corrine Saenz each have the right “to direct the moral and religious training of the children” while in their possession, the decree states.