Court Nixes Houston Anti-LGBT Petition That Included Forged, Invalid Signatures

by NICOLE FLATOW –

downtown houston

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance passed last May banned discrimination in housing, employment, and city contracts, whether that discrimination is based on race, sex, sexual orientation or other factors. But a campaign to take down the law that honed in on its LGBT protections demonized it as a “bathroom bill” on the claim that allowing transgender individuals to use the women’s restroom would create a dangerous opportunity for sexual predators.

The so-called HERO law was on hold in the year since, after opponents submitted a referendum petition to have the law recalled that local officials found contained invalid signatures. Late Friday, a judge ruled in favor of the city, finding that the referendum did not have enough valid signatures to move forward. “[A]s a matter of fact and as a matter of law … the Referendum Petition is not valid or enforceable in all respects,” Judge Robert Schaffer found.

“Now all Houstonians have access to the same protections,” Mayor Annise Parker said in a statement. Houston was one of the largest cities in the country without any nondiscrimination law, and the ruling could signal the end of attempts to thwart the law, although the plaintiffs could appeal.

Months before Judge Robert Schaffer’s ruling, a jury also found that some of the signatures in the petition that appeared in the same handwriting were forged, while others had not been collected properly.

Conservative push-back to the city ordinance became a national movement, starting with Fox News and several anti-LGBT groups. And opposition to the law grew into a religious liberty battle, after the city issued subpoenas to five local pastors as part of the litigation requesting documents on their anti-HERO advocacy. The goal of the subpoenas was to find out what claims and instructions the pastors had given on the petition. But opponents seized on the subpoenas to declare an attack on religious freedom, and soon former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) took up the cause, calling on his Fox News viewers to bombard Mayor Parker’s office with Bibles and copies of sermons, as Parker’s address was displayed on screen. As Media Matters reported, hundreds of supporters obliged. Others who publicly railed against the subpoenas included Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R).

The city since dropped the objectionable parts of the subpoenas against the pastors, although the resistance campaign continued. The opposition campaign also centered on a so-called bathroom provision of the bill, even though an explicit provision that protected transgender bathroom rights was actually removed before the bill was passed (and even though claims that transgender protections facilitate sexual predators have been widely discredited). In its place, the ordinance included an option for transgender individuals to file a complaint if they felt their access to a restroom or any other place were being improperly denied. The ordinance also contains a religious liberty clause.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress 

 

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