Anti-LGBT discrimination is now illegal in the nation's fourth-largest city, after a judge ruled Friday that a petition to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) doesn't have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Mayor Annise Parker suspended implementation of the ordinance — passed by the City Council last May — after anti-LGBT groups filed a lawsuit over the city's decision to reject their repeal petition.
In February, a jury found the petition contained widespread forgery, and on Friday, after two months of deliberations, Judge Robert Schaffer upheld the city's decision. The Houston Chronicle reports:
Ultimately, Schaffer on Friday ruled the final count of valid signatures was 16,684, leaving opponents short of the threshold required in the city charter of 17,249 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election.
"The jury's verdict and the judge's ruling are a powerful smack-down against the forces of discrimination and intolerance," said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city, in a statement. "And maybe, just maybe, they'll reconsider their misguided ways."
The law, on hold during trial, is now in effect, according to a city spokeswoman. Mayor Annise Parker released a statement celebrating the verdict.
"I would hope that the plaintiffs would not appeal, they lost during a jury trial and today they also lost with the judge's ruling," Parker said. "Now all Houstonians have access to the same protections."
Parker also tweeted:
We have a HERO! We passed a good ordinance. We were right to reject repeal petition; jury agreed with us, judge agreed with us! -A— Annise Parker (@AnniseParker) April 17, 2015
Opponents of the ordinance say they plan to appeal Schaffer's decision. The anti-LGBT Texas Pastor Council said in a release responding to the ruling:
Schaffer’s ruling that the coalition fell 585 signatures short was a result of Judge Schaffer, who was supported in his election by the LGBT community, unfortunately accepting the constantly changing manipulations of the law by the City’s “legal machine” and Mayor’s team, said the coalition. “We will not yield the safety and welfare, the voting rights and Constitutional freedoms of the citizens that have been stolen by the corrupt Parker regime. The law and the appellate courts in Texas are very strong in preserving voting rights so are confident we will prevail,” they continued. “The fact that the city’s own numbers of how many valid signatures we had submitted materially changed nearly a dozen times since August illustrates how desperate they are to keep this off the ballot.”
A coalition of LGBT groups supporting the ordinance issued the following statements:
"As a pastor and native Houstonian, I believe religious liberty is important, and just as important is the spiritual value of love. We are to love our God, and love our neighbor, NOT discriminate against our neighbor. The city has an obligation to protect the rights of all Houstonians to be free from discrimination and to be free to practice one’s religion. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance does both." Reverend Michael Diaz, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church.
"Today, the City of Houston and our legal system have upheld the long-established process laid out in our City Charter. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus urges the City of Houston to immediately implement the legally passed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in order to prevent discrimination from occurring in our great city. Houston is a city where people are judged by how hard they work, the content of their character and not by who they happen to love." Maverick Welsh, President, Houston GLBT Political Caucus.
"The time has come to put court battles in the past and begin protecting the citizens of Houston from all forms of discrimination. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was supported by a broad coalition of businesses, faith leaders and many others, should be implemented immediately." Human Rights Campaign, National Field Director Marty Rouse.
"The ACLU of Texas is proud to call Houston home, and we look forward to the day HERO is fully implemented because every resident of this great city deserves to be protected from unfair discrimination, whether on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, or religion.” Terri Burke, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.
"The political activists who want to repeal this common sense ordinance reject the basic values we all share about equality and nondiscrimination. They have even argued for the right to discriminate against anyone, including LGBT people and religious minorities. That alone shows why it’s so important for the city to finally enforce these basic protections for everyone." Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network President.
“The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects all Houstonians and with the favorable outcome of this trial, the City of Houston is now in the position to increase protections against discrimination for its residents. As members of a community that face ongoing discrimination based on race, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, we welcome a local mechanism to protect all Houstonians from facing further discrimination based on their identities.” Brandon Mack, Co-Chair, Houston Civil Rights Strategy Group.
Read the judge's ruling, AFTER THE JUMP ...