On Thursday, the day before America celebrated 238 years of independence, religious-right groups submitted petition signatures to put repeal of Houston’s recently passed Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) on the November ballot.
HERO bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity and other characteristics. Opponents have focused almost exclusively on protecting their right to discriminate against LGBT people.
Those discrimination supporters now say they have collected 50,000 signatures in their petition drive, more than the approximately 17,000 required to put HERO’s repeal up for a vote. City officials must now verify that those signatures are from registered voters who actually live in Houston.
The total number of petition signatures, supposedly collected over the past 30 days, must have been a bit disappointing for referendum supporters. Anti-gay groups claimed in May that people had sent more than 110,000 email messages opposed to HERO’s passage. That the number of signatures on the repeal petition is less than half that total suggests that a significant number of those emails came from a folks outside Houston. That’s not too surprising since some of the folks who testified against the ordinance in public hearings last spring were forced to admit that they didn’t even live in the city.
Even so, if enough petition signatures are verified, equality for all under the law will be put to a public vote in Houston this November. And if repeal were to pass, Houston would again become the only major city in Texas without such an anti-discrimination measure on the books.
HERO’s passage by the City Council on an 11-6 vote in May came despite a divisive and deceitful campaign waged by religious-right groups and activists to stop it. That campaign promoted fear, myths, distortions and even personal attacks against Mayor Annise Parker. Opponents denounced LGBT people as evil and shamefully (and falsely) insisted that the ordinance would set sexual predators loose in women’s restrooms. They also argued that the ordinance threatens their religious freedom — the freedom, that is, to discriminate against people they don’t like. At one point a prominent HERO opponent even insisted that religious freedom allows businesspeople and others to discriminate against anyone, including Jews as well as LGBT people.
But a broad coalition of grassroots organizations, including Equality Texas, Texans Together, the ACLU of Texas and the Texas Freedom Network, working behind the courageous leadership of Mayor Parker, Council Member Ellen Cohen and faith leaders across Houston, made sure that equality won and demonstrated to the rest of the country that Houston doesn’t discriminate. We’re confident Houston voters will stand for equality and against discrimination if asked to vote on repeal in November.