By Bob Allen
The Texas Supreme Court ruled July 24 that Houston must repeal a controversial non-discrimination ordinance or put it on the ballot for voters to decide.
A state district judge determined in April that citizens seeking repeal of the city’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity did not get enough valid petition signatures to force a referendum.
The case sparked national interest when the mayor’s office obtained and eventually withdrew subpoenas ordering five pastors involved in the petition campaign to turn over sermons related to the issue.
The city secretary initially determined there were enough valid signatures for the petition to be valid, but the city attorney and mayor disagreed. The Supreme Court, however, said the city’s charter assigns responsibility for certifying petitions to the secretary, not the city council, and gave the council 30 days to either repeal the measure or place it on the November ballot.
Last fall Baptist voices diverse as Interfaith Alliance head Welton Gaddy and Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary protested the mayor’s decision to subpoena the sermons as a perceived threat to religious liberty.
The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention co-authored a letter denouncing the act and creating a rare alliance including leaders of both the SBC and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, as well as competing moderate and conservative Baptist state conventions in Texas.
Mayor Annise Parker, who is openly gay, later said the city would withdraw subpoenas against the five pastors. The mayor said meetings with local clergy and national church leaders persuaded her to pull the subpoenas, but she did not admit they were improper as part of a discovery phase in a suit filed by opponents of the equal rights ordinance.