Houston votes down LGBT rights ordinance over bathroom clause

Houston voters rejected an ordinance to establish anti-discriminatory measures for gays and transgenders on Tuesday, making it one of the largest metros in the nation without protection from sexual orientation discrimination. 

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

The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was solidly rejected Tuesday, but Houston Mayor Annise Parker isn’t giving up on LGBT rights.

Nicknamed HERO, the ordinance would have established nondiscrimination protections for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender in public businesses such as restaurants and hotels. The measure would also have banned discrimination in city employment and city services. But the initiative failed to garner enough support from voters.

The ordinance was initially approved in May 2014, but a lawsuit that ultimately reached Texas Supreme Court resulted in a ruling forcing the city of Houston to repeal the ordinance or allow city residents to vote on the measure.

Though the vote revealed 61 percent disapproval, Ms. Parker, who is one of the first openly gay mayors of a major US city, is determined to continue the fight 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.

But as Parker approaches the end of her term, it’s unclear whether the measure will pass before she leaves office. She appears to be one of the few elected leaders supporting the ordinance. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick argued the ordinance “was never about equality – that is already the law. It was about allowing men to enter women’s restrooms and locker rooms — defying common sense and common decency,” according to the Texas Tribune.

In addition to anti-discriminatory measures, the ordinance would allow residents to file complaints if they felt discriminated against and guilty violators would be subject to fines up to $5,000. But it was the public bathroom clause that most opponents attacked, stating the ordinance would allow “sexual predators to use women’s restrooms.”

Furthermore, though religious institutions were exempt, many opponents cited infringement of religious beliefs as cause for rejecting the ordinance.

Supporters released a written statement Tuesday night to the Houston Chronicle: "We are disappointed with today's outcome, but our work to secure nondiscrimination protections for all hard-working Houstonians will continue. No one should have to live with the specter of discrimination hanging over them. Everyone should have the freedom to work hard, earn a decent living and provide for themselves and their families."

The Texas Tribune reports, “HERO’s defeat on Tuesday makes Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, one of the largest metros without an ordinance banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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