A Texas Freedom Network staffer attended Monday’s jury selection proceedings for a lawsuit seeking to put repeal of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) up for a citywide vote. Passed by the Houston City Council last May, HERO bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religious, gender, veteran status and other categories. The discrimination protections cover employment, housing and public accommodations.
Religious-right opponents of HERO are mostly upset by anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. They argue that businesses and individuals should have the right to discriminate for religious reasons. (During the City Council debate, one HERO opponent — a Houston pastor — admitted that religious freedom should also protect the right to discriminate even against Jews.) Opponents also argue that protecting LGBT people from discrimination isn’t necessary because such discrimination isn’t really a problem.
On Monday, lawyers for HERO opponents said they wanted to be allowed to ask — directly — whether any potential jurors were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. They argued that this was important information because they wanted to be sure jurors aren’t biased. In other words, they wanted to force potential jurors who might be closeted either to out themselves as LGBT or perjure themselves. Moreover, the folks who argue that LGBT people don’t face discrimination wanted to discriminate by keeping LGBT people off the jury.
The judge said no.
HERO opponents filed their lawsuit after the city attorney ruled that they had failed to obtain enough valid petition signatures to put repeal of the ordinance on the ballot. The city attorney noted a number of apparent violations of rules intended to safeguard against fraud in petition drives. In addition, the Houston Press has reported about evidence — such as lists of signatures that appear to be in the same handwriting — suggesting that anti-HERO petition gatherers might actually have engaged in fraud.