By Bob Allen
Voters overwhelmingly rejected Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance — or HERO — designed to protect the rights of gay citizens and opposed by religious conservatives who warned it would give male sexual predators access to women’s bathrooms.
A Nov. 3 referendum failed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in laws that prohibit discrimination in housing, employment, city contracting and business services. The vote followed a yearlong court battle marked by a religious liberty controversy after city officials sought to subpoena sermons of pastors who spoke out against the ordinance.
Ed Young, pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church, declared the HERO referendum a “moral issue” — and not a vote about discrimination — at a watch party for the Campaign for Houston, which opposed the ordinance.
“Everybody’s interpreted this as a political thing, and that’s not the perspective from which I come,” Young said, according to the Texas Tribune. “This is beyond politics. Someone asked earlier if Houston would be perceived by the national press, and other cities, as a place that discriminates. You know this great city. That’s not who we are.”
Over at First Baptist Church in Houston, Pastor Greg Matte on the church website urged church members to vote against the measure.
“This proposition isn’t about equalization,” Matte said. “It’s about normalization of something that goes against God’s design.”
Supporters accused the campaign against HERO of using scare tactics like calling it the “bathroom bill” that would permit sexual predators to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms by pretending to be transsexual.
Last year religious liberty advocates on both sides registered concern, however, about subpoenas ordering five Houston pastors to turn over sermons as evidence in a lawsuit seeking repeal of the non-discrimination ordinance originally adopted by the City Council.
Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, later withdrew the subpoenas after meetings with local and national clergy. The Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that city officials must either repeal the measure or put it on the ballot for voters to decide.
After its defeat, the Houston mayor pledged to keep up the fight against LGBT discrimination.
“No one’s rights should be subject to a popular vote,” Parker said in her concession speech. “It is insulting, it is demeaning, and it is just wrong.”
The mayor denounced the opposition effort “a campaign of fear mongering and deliberate lies.”
“They just kept spewing an ugly wad of lies from our TV screens and from pulpits,” she said. “This was a calculated campaign by a very small but determined group of right-wing ideologues and the religious right, and they know only how to destroy, not how to build up.”