Houston votes down LGBT 'bathroom rights' law

Houston Mayor Annise Parker vowed to continue to fight for LGBT rights after a discrimination ordinance was voted down Tuesday.

(Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
Rita Palomarez, left, and Linda Rodriguez pray during an election watch party attended by opponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015, in Houston. The ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in Houston did not pass.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker has rallied supporters of a defeated ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people in the city, telling them the fight isn't over.

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was soundly rejected Tuesday by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent, following a nearly 18-month battle in the nation's fourth-largest city that spawned rallies, legal fights and accusations of religious intolerance and demonization of the LGBT community.

But Mayor Parker, who is gay and championed the ordinance, led a crowd of more than 100 people at an election night watch party in downtown Houston in a chant that referenced the ordinance's nickname, HERO, yelling, "A hero fights for justice."

"I guarantee that justice in Houston will prevail. This ordinance, you have not seen the last of. We're united. We will prevail," Parker said.

Still, the future of the ordinance looked uncertain. Parker is finishing her final two-year term, and it's unclear if the next mayor and city council will revisit the issue.

The ordinance would have applied to businesses that serve the public, such as restaurants and hotels, private employers, housing, city employment and city contracting. It would have allowed residents to file a complaint if they felt they had been discriminated against based on protected categories. Religious institutions would have been exempt. Violators would have faced fines up to $5,000.

Supporters said it would have offered increased protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and would have protected against discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories.

Opponents, including a coalition of conservative pastors, said it infringed on their religious beliefs regarding homosexuality. But in the months leading up to Tuesday's vote, opponents focused their campaign on one part of the ordinance related to the use of public bathrooms by transgender men and women that opponents alleged would allow sexual predators to use women's restrooms.

Parker, a Democrat, and other supporters described the "bathroom ordinance" campaign as "fear mongering."

The state's top two elected leaders — Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, both Republicans — praised the defeat, with Abbott saying voters "showed values still matter."

Patrick, who vaulted to power on the basis of an ardent tea party following, described the ordinance as "pandering to political correctness." He said it was only about allowing men to enter women's restrooms and locker rooms "defying," in his words, "common sense and common decency."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative political advocacy group, said in a statement that Tuesday's defeat of the ordinance made Houston "a rallying cry for Americans tired of seeing their freedoms trampled in a politically correct stampede to redefine marriage and sexuality."

The ordinance was initially approved by the Houston City Council in May 2014, but a lawsuit to have residents vote on the measure eventually made it to the Texas Supreme Court, which in July ordered the city to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot.

Tuesday's referendum drew attention from around the nation, with the measure getting high-profile endorsements last week from the White House, high-tech giant Apple and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. It also received support from other members of Houston's religious community.

Kristen Capps, a Houston attorney who supported the ordinance, remained optimistic.

"It's just like every civil rights movement. We're just going to keep on doing it until it's done," she said.

The Obama administration has taken steps to support such moves, The Christian Science Monitor reports:

Schools that prevent transgender students from using restrooms for the gender with which they identify may be violation of federal law, according to the Obama administration.

This is not the first time the Obama administration has moved in favor of transgender rights. In April of this year, the White House announced that it would be opening its first gender-neutral restroom, which would allow more federal employees and visitors who identify as transgender greater peace of mind.

The argument was initially put forward by the Department of Education (DOEd) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a friend-of-the-court brief backing a Virginia teenager named Gavin Grimm who is suing for the right to use the boys’ restrooms at his Virginia high school.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70 .

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