HOUSTON, Texas, July 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – The highest court in Texas has guaranteed that a controversial “equal rights” ordinance, imposed by lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker, will be subject to a referendum by the city's residents, if not repealed entirely.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (“HERO”), passed by the City Council in June of 2014, allows people who consider themselves members of the opposite sex – e.g., males who consider themselves females – to use public accommodations, including restrooms, intended for the opposite sex. A coalition of city residents who objected to the ordinance initiated a petition drive to repeal it or put it up for a referendum. They gathered almost 55,000 signatures, well above the 17,269 required by Houston's charter to force either repeal or a referendum from the city.
Houston's city secretary examined the petition and found that more than the required number of signatures were valid. However, Mayor Parker, assisted by then-Houston city attorney David Feldman, rebuffed the secretary, ruled tens of thousands of the signatures invalid, and declared the petition void.
A legal fight ensued, the most well-known part of which involved the mayor's attempt to subpoena the contents of the sermons of five pastors (who were not parties in the lawsuit), calling them “fair game” if they mentioned homosexuality, Parker herself, or certain other subjects.
Parker withdrew the subpoenas following a public backlash and legal action by the pastors. Yet she continued her campaign against a referendum for the HERO, seeking to deny the pastors a jury trial in the matter.
In January, District Judge Robert Schaeffer (D) ruled, contra Parker's objections, that the petition coalition had a right to a jury trial. After that trial, Schaeffer then ruled in favor of the city and the HERO. However, the Texas Supreme Court last Friday essentially nullified his ruling by noting that the Houston City Council had a duty to act immediately upon the city secretary's certification of the petition.
“The Charter gives the City Secretary, not the City Council, the discretion to evaluate the petition,” said the court.
The Court leveled a stern rebuke regarding the City Council's claims of “forgery, false oaths, and the like” in the petition, saying: “we note that the City Secretary never claimed the referendum petition was plagued by forgery or perjury. Yet the City Council decided, of its own accord, not to act, disregarding the City Secretary's certification that the petition had enough signatures.”
“Faced with the City Secretary's certification,” the Court concluded, “the City Council had no discretion but to repeal the ordinance or proceed with the election process.”
The HERO must now be either repealed by the City Council or, if not repealed by August 24, put to a vote in November. The City Council is forbidden to enforce the ordinance in the meantime. (Schaeffer's ruling, which the Supreme Court notes “disregarded some of the jury findings,” is pending appeal in the Fourteenth Court of Appeals.)
Jared Woodfill, the former Harris County Republican Party chair whose name tops the list of plaintiffs in the case, celebrated in a blog post, noting, “we will now have an opportunity to vote on this ordinance in November.” He also condemned Mayor Parker for “ignor[ing] the will of the people” and is calling on her “to apologize to the people of the city for the huge amount of resources spent on this litigation.”
At the time of Schaeffer's ruling, Houston's lead attorney, Geoffrey Harrison, called the petitioners members of “the forces of discrimination and intolerance.” He expressed hope that “[m]aybe, just maybe, they'll reconsider their misguided ways.”