Houston voters rejected a controversial measure Tuesday that would have barred discrimination against gays and transgender people after an 18-month battle that pitted advocates of gay rights against those who believed they were defending religious liberty.
The vote had been expected to be close. But with about 30% of precincts reporting, the measure was failing, 62% to 38%, and the Associated Press called the election for the measure’s foes.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was initially approved by the City Council in May 2014. But opponents sued. In July, the Texas Supreme Court ordered the city to either repeal it or place the measure on the ballot.
Texas is one of 28 states that does not have statewide nondiscrimination protections — although major cities have adopted policies, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.
Evangelicals nationally may not realize this ordinance is directly related to the Houston city government issuing sermon subpoenas to five Houston pastors in the Fall of 2016; the fight over this matter has been going on for eighteen months. The Mayor of Houston had this ordinance put into law by the City Council. Fortunately, city law also allows Houston citizens to collect a certain number of signatures on a petition and force a city council decision to be brought to a public vote. Thousands more signatures were collected than the minimum necessary. Every signature was accompanied by detailed and verified information. The petitions were notarized. The Mayor promptly had her City attorney invalidate the signatures. She simultaneously attempted to bully Houston pastors by issuing far-reaching subpoenas to five high profile pastors, demanding all sermons, emails, letters and text messages. Houston pastors were undeterred. The petitions were appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court who ruled 7-0 that the signatures are indeed valid and ordered the Mayor to repeal the ordinance or put it up for a city vote. The Proposition 1 vote on November 3rd is the result of this eighteen month process.
Mayor Annise Parker’s attempt to subpoena sermons was completely outrageous. From the Wall Street Journal‘s report last year:
Pro bono attorneys representing Houston have demanded copies of sermons and other speeches given by five pastors and religious leaders who have spoken out against the ordinance, which bans racial and sexual orientation discrimination in city employment and contracting, housing and public accommodations.
A subpoena on Pastor Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church, asks for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”
Alliance Defending Freedom, a national conservative legal group, filed a motion on Monday in Harris County district court objecting to the records request on First Amendment grounds.
“City council members are supposed to be public servants, not ‘Big Brother’ overlords who will tolerate no dissent or challenge,” ADF senior legal counsel Erik Stanley said. “In this case, they have embarked upon a witch-hunt, and we are asking the court to put a stop to it.”
Happily, an overwhelming majority of Houston voters on Tuesday night told Annise Parker what she could do with her subpoenas. Before the vote, the Wall Street Journal reported:
A recent poll by a Houston television station, KPRC, found that 45% of Houstonians supported the measure, with 36% opposed, and the rest uncertain. Another poll by the Houston Association of Realtors found that 52% supported the ordinance, 37% opposed it and 10% were undecided.
And also from the WSJ:
Opposition signs proclaiming “No Men in Women’s Restrooms!” have popped up all over Houston, including in the Near Northside neighborhood, a largely Hispanic area near downtown, where the signs were sprinkled around an apartment complex on Monday, urging voters to defeat the proposal.
Houston-area readers correct me if I’m wrong, but it appears that the Vote No campaign focused heavily on the transgender part of the bill. I wonder if the measure would have passed had the LGB part stayed, but the T part had been dropped. In fact, Russell Berman of The Atlantic reports in the wake of the ballot measure’s defeat that that’s likely to have been the case:
Carlbom’s attitude might partly be due to the belief that even with a loss on Tuesday, a narrower anti-discrimination ordinance is likely to pass when a new mayor takes office next year. Opponents of Proposition 1 have said they would support a proposal that includes exemptions for bathrooms and locker rooms. “I would expect that type of ordinance to pass very quickly, with if not unanimous support then near-unanimous support in the city council,” Jones said.
With her term almost over, Parker refused to back off a fully-inclusive measure, but her successor might be more open to compromise. “She went for the maximum. She didn’t go for the 90 percent,” Jones said. “I think it reflects that HERO pushed just beyond the comfort zone of many Houstonians. And that small area beyond their comfort zone has been magnified 100-fold by the ‘no’ campaign.”
Despite what big business, the Democratic Party, and activists tell you, it is by no means a sign of hatred or insanity to not want to have to share the restroom with someone of the opposite sex.
Does Hillary Clinton support the Obama Education Department’s decision to force the nation’s public schools to allow transgender teens to use the locker room of their choice, or face a civil rights lawsuit? Somebody should ask her.