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Poll Shows Majority Of Houston-Area Residents Back Marriage Equality For 1st Time


A week after Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance finally took effect, a new survey shows a majority of residents in the nation's largest solidly red metropolitan area now support marriage equality. 

Houston is the nation's fourth-largest city, but the survey covers three counties that account for most of the nation's fifth-largest metropolitan area. All three counties — Fort Bend, Harris and Montgomery — were swept by Republicans in November 2014 elections. 

Parker.AnniseThe region covered by the survey also includes the district of anti-gay GOP state Rep. Cecil Bell, who's filed multiple bills seeking to undermine a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. Of course, Houston is also home to out lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, who married her longtime partner in California last year. 

Rice University's 34th Annual Kinder Houston Area Survey, released Thursday, found that 51 percent of Houston-area residents now believe, "Marriages between homosexuals should be given the same legal status as heterosexual marriages.” That's up from 35 percent in 2004. 

Meanwhile, 52 percent of those surveyed now believe homosexuality is morally acceptable, up from just 21 percent in 1997 — which happens to be the same year Parker was first elected to the City Council.  

From the survey

Meanwhile, on virtually all the relevant questions asked over the years, support for gay rights has increased consistently. In alternating years, for example, the survey participants were asked about the statement, "Marriages between homosexuals should be given the same legal status as heterosexual marriages." The numbers in agreement reached a majority of 51 percent in this year's survey — up from 43 percent in 2009, 37 percent in 2001 and 31 percent in 1993. 

Similarly, as we reported last year, the percent who were in favor of homosexuals being legally permitted to adopt children grew from 17 percent in 1991, to 29 percent in 2000, to 38 percent in 2004, to 43 percent in 2012, and to 51 percent in 2014. The number of area residents who consider homosexuality to be "morally acceptable" also has grown consistently, from 21 percent in 1997, to 31 percent in 2005, to 45 percent in 2011 and to 52 percent in this year's survey. 

Recent polls show that anywhere between 42 percent and 48 percent of Texas voters now support marriage equality. However, most state and federal lawmakers represent gerrymandered districts in which Republican primary voters, who are significantly more conservative, determine the outcome of elections.

Anti-LGBT Groups To Appeal Judge's Ruling Upholding Houston Equal Rights Ordinance


Not surprisingly, anti-LGBT groups say they plan to appeal a judge's recent decision upholding Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance. 

Two weeks ago, Judge Robert Schaffer rejected a petition a repeal the ordinance, saying it didn't have enough valid signatures due to problems like rampant forgery

ParkerAnti-LGBT groups, which call themselves the "No Unequal Rights Coalition," plan a press conference Thursday announcing their appeal. From a Texas Pastor Council email announcing the press conference:

The NUER referendum would repeal Mayor Annise Parker’s terrible ordinance allowing biological males in women’s restrooms and criminalizing businesses who believe in traditional marriage by city council action or placing it on the ballot for a vote of the citizens.

Mayor Annise Parker has practiced deception, oppression, abuse of power and abject violation of Constitutional rights of the people to keep the people from voting – we are as committed as ever to fighting against her tyranny.  Come stand with us and say “Yes!” to our freedom and “No!” to Mayor Parker’s unlawful acts against the laws of God, laws of nature the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution!

More from plaintiff and former Houston GOP Chair Jared Woodfill: 

WoodfillUnfortunately, Judge Robert Schaffer (D-Houston) ruled on Friday, April 17th that our coalition of pastors and activists had collected 16,684 valid signatures, just short of the 17,269 needed to force a public vote on the ordinance.
We will appeal Judge Schaffer's decision.
This process has made it very clear that Mayor Parker and her liberal allies are willing to do whatever it takes to keep this important issue off the ballot. Clearly, Mayor Parker does not trust the voters.
Fortunately, the Court of Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court traditionally are "strong" on voting rights.
Be encouraged knowing this is just one battle in a larger war we will win. We will not surrender, quit or compromise when it comes to religious liberty, voting rights, and the constitutional freedoms we the people enjoy. Please continue to pray as this case moves to the appellate courts.

If you'll remember, the anti-LGBT groups demanded a jury trial in the case. However, when the jury came back with an unfavorable verdict, they called on Schaffer to reject it. When Schaffer ruled against them, they accused him of having a political agenda because he was endorsed by an LGBT group. 

In short, it appears these folks — who also unsuccessfully attempted to repeal an equal rights ordinance in Plano, Texas — will never be satisfied and will do anything to accomplish their goal, including forging signatures.

But they'll have a very high burden on appeal to overturn decisions by both the jury and Schaffer. The Houston ordinance is now in effect, and time is running out to get a referendum on the November ballot. 

Airbnb Removes User Who Evicted Gay Couple From Home in Galveston, Texas: VIDEO


A same-sex couple was kicked out of a home they rented in Galveston, Texas, on Airbnb after the owner discovered they were gay, according to a report from KTRK-TV

Airbnb has responded by removing the owner from the popular home-sharing site, saying it has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination. 

HouseJonathan Wang and his partner, Brent, booked two nights in the home for a weekend getaway to Galveston for a friend's wedding. After returning from a reception on Friday night, they encountered the owner, identified only as Heather. From KTRK: 

"Heather asked me, where my wife was. Who is this person? I said it was my significant other Brent. She said I thought you were bringing a wife. I said I didn't say that specifically. I said is that going to be OK? She said. It's not," said Wang.

Wang said the hosts told them to get out. He said he began packing his things.

"She also commented while we were going upstairs that was their bedroom upstairs so they were even more uncomfortable with it," said Wang.

Wang and has partner had nowhere else to go but were eventually able to find a hotel room. As it turns out, there was a disclaimer on the bottom of the Airbnb listing that said the hosts are "straight friendly":

"I'm completely of my legal realms and morals," said host Heather via phone Wednesday.

We asked if she rents to gay couples. Heather responded, "That's none of your business. That's my private home." 

AirbnbIn addition to removing Heather from the site, Airbnb gave Wang and his partner a refund: 

"We have a zero tolerance policy for discrimination on Airbnb. The host in question has been removed from the site. Airbnb has clear guidelines that a host or a guest may not promote hate or bigotry."

Neither Texas nor federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations. Galveston, despite its reputation as a gay-friendly travel destination, also lacks local LGBT protections. But who knows, perhaps this incident will serve as the impetus for changing that. 

Watch KTRK's report, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Airbnb Removes User Who Evicted Gay Couple From Home in Galveston, Texas: VIDEO" »

Houston, We Have A HERO: Judge Throws Out Petition To Repeal LGBT Protections


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:

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 ...

Continue reading "Houston, We Have A HERO: Judge Throws Out Petition To Repeal LGBT Protections" »

Over 100 Texas Organizations, Including 13 Fortune 500 Companies, Sign LGBT Equality Pledge


More than 100 corporations and other organizations — from American Airlines and Apple to the Houston Super Bowl Host Committee — have joined an impressive coalition of businesses pledging to support LGBT equality in Texas.

The coalition, called Texas Competes, launched Tuesday in Austin against the backdrop of 22 anti-LGBT bills in the state Legislature. 

From the Texas Competes website

Texas Competes' mission is to provide a unified voice for the Texas business community on the clear economic and business case for fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers, families, customers, and tourists. That unified voice takes the form of the Texas Competes pledge.

Many of Texas' most successful businesses have policies and workplace cultures that are inclusive and welcoming to LGBT workers and customers. But the competitiveness of these businesses, and of the Texas economy, is impacted by the brand that the state of Texas projects on the LGBT issue. The Texas Competes pledge creates an opportunity for business leaders to clarify their shared economic interests in fair treatment for gay and transgender people.

More from The Texas Observer:

Texas Competes spokesman James Shackelford said the coalition won’t take positions on specific legislation and that the effort has been in the works for months, long before anti-LGBT religious freedom laws in Indiana and Arkansas sparked historic backlash from the corporate sector.

“But obviously the timing, when it’s launching and when we’re going public with it, is important,” Shackelford told theObserver.

The Texas Association of Business, the state’s powerful chamber of commerce, has come out against two religious freedom amendments that critics say would enshrine a license to discriminate against LGBT people in the constitution. However, dozens of other measures also target LGBT rights, from statutory religious exemption bills to proposals that would ban local nondiscrimination protections and transgender restroom use.

“Texas is an economic powerhouse because it’s a place where talented people, entrepreneurs and companies want to call home. But our competitiveness is in jeopardy if Texas does not become a place that is welcoming to LGBT workers and families,” Texas Competes advisory board member and former Dell CFO Tom Meredith said in a statement. “Businesses that embrace diversity are doing both the right thing and the economically smart thing.”

Interestingly, several business not otherwise known as LGBT-friendly have joined the coalition, while others long considered corporate allies have not. 

For example, Texas-based MetroPCS, which joined the coalition, has a score of 0 on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index. But AT&T, which hasn't joined the coalition, has a score of 100. (AT&T was also a major supporter of anti-gay Republican Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign last year).

Watch a report from KXAN-TV and check out the full list of organizations that have joined Texas Competes, AFTER THE JUMP ... 

Continue reading "Over 100 Texas Organizations, Including 13 Fortune 500 Companies, Sign LGBT Equality Pledge " »

Judge To Decide This Week Whether Petition To Repeal Houston LGBT Protections Qualifies For Ballot


Nearly a year after the Houston City Council approved an Equal Rights Ordinance, a judge is expected to rule this week on whether anti-LGBT groups gathered enough valid signatures to place a repeal of the measure on the ballot. 

The city filed a motion Friday alleging that opponents of the ordinance remain 650 signatures short of the number needed to trigger a referendum. 

The Houston Chronicle reports: 

TaylorThe city's latest count puts conservative opponents of the law closer to triggering a vote than ever before, but still short of the needed 17,269 valid signatures.

"Under the jury's verdict, and under any honest application of the court's rulings, plaintiffs lose, the city wins, and civil rights are safe in Houston, Texas," said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city. ... 

Andy Taylor (right), attorney for the plaintiffs, said he was not fazed by the city's filing Friday and would submit his own count Monday proving opponents have a valid petition.

"I'm excited to report that our number exceeds the minimum number required so we're going to get to have an election for the city of Houston," Taylor said.

ParkerMayor Annise Parker has placed enforcement of the ordinance, known as "HERO," on hold pending the outcome of the case. In February, supporters of HERO reported that since it passed, 84 cases of discrimination had been reported to the city's Office of the Inspector General, including 52 that would have been covered by the ordinance. From HouEquality.com

These reported cases of discrimination run the gambit of protected characteristics, from race to age to gender to disability to sexual orientation to gender identity to national origin to veteran status.  

If you look at the math, that breaks down to 1.6 people every week who are actively facing discrimination in some form and who have no local remedy because HERO is not in effect. To look at it another way that is almost 7 people (6.9 to be exact) every month. 

After Houston became the last major city in the US to add LGBT protections, opponents launched a petition drive to repeal them. The city eventually rejected the petition, saying it didn't have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.  

Anti-LGBT groups filed a lawsuit, and in February a jury determined that among other things, the petition contained widespread forgery. Based on the jury's determinations about which signatures should be considered valid, Judge Robert Schaffer began a final count. In late March, Schaffer revealed that opponents of the ordinance were roughly 3,000 signatures short of the 17,269 needed. However, approximately 8,500 signatures remained in question because they appeared on pages circulated by people whose names weren't legible. 

Opponents have vowed to appeal if Schaffer determines they don't have enough valid signatures. 

Houston officials rejected a separate petition last week aimed at repealing the ordinance — and enshrining a transgender bathroom ban in the city charter — after the organizer misread rules about the number of required signatures.  


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