By Jonathan Saenz – BarbWire guest contributor
On Tuesday, November 3rd, Houston voters will finally have a chance to vote for or against the controversial LGBT “Equal Rights” Bathroom Ordinance (or HERO), known as Proposition 1 on the ballot. I was born and raised in Houston and I can tell clearly that this issue is the most divisive ordinance and issue to ever take place in Houston. The ACLU and the LGBT lobby group Human Rights Campaign have focused their efforts on Houston to force the city to accept their agenda, a city that is already known for its cultural diversity and tolerance long before any ordinance of this type was proposed.
The vote comes after a more than yearlong campaign by Houston Mayor Annise Parker to illegally disenfranchise voters and intimidate opponents, including efforts to silence Houston pastors by attempting to subpoena their sermons and private church communications. A unanimous Texas Supreme Court ruled against the Mayor in July ordering the Council to stop enforcement of the ordinance and “comply with its duties” to allow Houstonians to vote on the issue.
With early voting already taking place and Election Day closing in, a thorough analysis reveals the ordinance is about giving local government new power to force private individuals and businesses to affirm homosexual conduct and actual or perceived “gender identity” under threat of serious criminal penalties. Openly lesbian Mayor Parker admitted as much during the original debate over the ordinance in 2014, when she said in her own words ‘This [ordinance] is about me.’
Here is an updated analysis of the ordinance that all Houston voters should consider:
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The ordinance will allow men access to women’s bathrooms, shower rooms, and locker rooms (any “place of public accommodation”). The proposed ordinance requires Houston businesses to make all women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms available to all who are dressed in female attire, without regard to biological sex. This will place women and children at risk. Houston Astros star and Houston resident, Lance Berkman has released a video in opposition to the ordinance for his concerns about the safety of his daughters.
The ordinance would force employers and private business owners to violate their religious and moral convictions and could be harmful to religious organizations as well. It subjects individuals to criminal prosecution for refusing to participate in the celebration of the homosexual conduct because of their religious beliefs or conviction of conscience. This includes bakers, florists, planners, musicians and others who might decline to participate in same-sex weddings that violates their faith. A similar law in New Mexico was used to force a Christian Photographer to use her gifts and talents to affirm and participate in a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’ that she disagreed with or face punishment by the state. Houston Mayor Annise issued subpoenas for pastors sermons after numerous faith leaders in Houston talked about the issue from the church pulpit. Parker sent out a “tweet” that pastor are “fair game” for targeting by the government because of their pulpit comments. Parker later withdrew the sermon subpoenas due to enormous national pressure and backlash.
The ordinance promotes government-backed discrimination by seeking to criminalize opposition to homosexual and transgender behavior. Anti-discrimination protections for race, color, national origin, sex, and religion are already protected in state and federal law. Many believe the ordinance will actually promote discrimination by imposing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes onto the private sector of Houston, while centralizing the power of investigation, fines, and punishment under the Mayor. Within just the past year the legislatures of Idaho, Wyoming, and North Dakota declined to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination laws. So have the following cities: Berea, KY (October 2014), Fountain Hills, AZ (November 2014), Beckley, WV (December 2014), Glendale, AZ, which hosted this year’s Super Bowl (January 2015), Bardstown, KY (March 2015), Charlotte, NC (March 2015), Scottsdale, AZ (March 2015), Elkhart, IN (July 2015), and Goshen, IN (August 2015). Voters in both Fayetteville, AR and Springfield, MO, recently repealed the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination laws
The ordinance equates race with sexual conduct. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on race (and color, national origin, sex, and religion). The U.S Supreme has declined to subject classifications based on “sexual orientation” to the “strict scrutiny” legal standard that applies to race. The Coalition of African American Pastors opposes the ordinance and numerous African American, Hispanic and Asian American leaders in Houston oppose the ordinance as well. Some members of the NAACP have expressed support for the ordinance.
The ordinance increases government interference in the private sector by mandating employment of homosexual and transgendered persons. The ordinance seeks to substitute the judgment of the Mayor for that of the employer regarding what qualities or characteristics are most relevant to a particular job. Houston businesses could be forced under penalty of law to hire people that openly promote homosexual or transgender behavior that is inappropriate for their job and contrary to the business owner’s religious convictions.
Additionally, our friends at Alliance Defending Freedom have gone into more detail about the legal policy concerns and problems for First Amendment rights that are jeopardized by this ordinance. Their analysis can be found here.
Early voting began on October 19 and the last day to register to vote is October 5. Houston voters will also have a chance to vote for Mayor and City Council. We encourage Houstonians to ensure they are prepared to vote in the Nov. 3rd election and to spread this information with their friends and family today.
Jonathan Saenz was born and raised in Houston, received his law degree from the University of Houston Law Center and he leads the nonprofit statewide organization Texas Values.
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