Houston will be the site of the nation’s first major showdown over LGBT rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality.
The City Council in the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis voted as expected Wednesday to place the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, on the Nov. 3 ballot.
The council, which first approved the ordinance last May, had little choice but to put HERO up for a public vote after the Texas Supreme Court ruled officials had to accept a petition from anti-LGBT groups seeking to repeal the measure, regardless of the fact that it contained rampant forgery.
Project Q Houston reports:
After the City Council vote, the Greater Houston Partnership – the city’s largest business group – issued a statement supporting HERO.
“As we said before, when the ordinance was first discussed, Houston is a remarkably welcoming place,” Bob Harvey, the group’s president and CEO, says in the press release. “As we work to attract businesses and talented professionals to our region, they have made clear that they are seeking a community that is welcoming, diverse and inclusive. Ensuring such an environment is critically important to the continued success of the region’s economy.”
A coalition of LGBT and progressive groups – HRC, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Equality Texas, Texas Freedom Network and Freedom for All Americans – also reiterated their support for HERO.
“The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance reflects the core Houstonian values – that no one should face discrimination because of their age or race, their status as a military veteran, or their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “The City Council voted on this ordinance last year, and it enjoyed enormous support from elected officials, businesses big and small, civil rights groups, and a diversity of faith leaders. Over the coming months, we intend to send a clear message that voters in Houston will reject any and all attempts to strip these needed protections away from their friends and family members.”
Houston was the last major US city to enact LGBT protections, but the ordinance also prohibits discrimination based on 13 other characteristics, including race, sex and disability.
Out lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, who will leave office at the end of the year due to term limits, said after Wednesday’s vote she’s confident voters will uphold HERO:
“You never take a campaign lightly, and there’s no telling what kind of incident could happen to derail things,” she said. “The fact that all of the top-tier mayoral campaigns are supporting HERO, the fact that there’s a well-organized, well-funded support committee behind HERO, the fact that the Greater Houston Partnership supports HERO, all of those things say it’s going to move in the right direction.”
Parker said the last time a gay issue was on the ballot, voters banned domestic partner benefits by a margin of just 2 percentage points, 51 to 49, in 2003.
“The world has changed tremendously since the early 2000s,” she said. “We’re not going to take it for granted, but I don’t have any concerns that it’s not going to go the way I want, which would be to affirm HERO.”
Watch a report from KPRC-TV below.