Houston Heats Up over Proposed Gay Ordinance

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A racially diverse coalition of Houston churches is hoping to defeat a proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Mayor Annise Parker, an open lesbian, is promoting the measure, also known as the Equal Rights Ordinance. The Houston City Council is scheduled to vote on the measure next Wednesday, May 28.

Supporters say it will protect sexual minorities while opponents say it wrongly elevates sexual orientation to a constitutionally protected class.

Some faith leaders in Houston support the measure but many say it will penalize businesses that want to practice biblical beliefs in the marketplace.

Dave Welch, executive director of The Houston Area Pastor Council, said Christian businesses facing complaints under the ordinance could be forced to pay a $500 daily fine, plus thousands of dollars in legal fees, for every complaint.

Alliance Defending Freedom, a Phoenix-based Christian legal advocacy group, noted in an analysis that the ordinance offers no protection for rights of conscience.

"[The proposed ordinance] will potentially require those in the creative-arts service industry to create messages with which they do not agree for events they do not support," ADF attorney Joe La Rue wrote.

Opponents say wedding vendors opposing gay marriage would be especially at risk under the ordinance.

ADF and other ordinance opponents are also concerned that the proposed measure will force businesses to allow those identifying as transgender to use public bathrooms for either sex.

After a recent change to the proposed ordinance, La Rue noted "places of public accommodation will still be forced to allow biological males to use the women's restrooms, locker rooms, and similar facilities."

Other Texas cities like San Antonio have already passed non-discrimination ordinances. In Houston, opponents say they will force a citywide vote if the city council passes the ordinance.

Plans are already underway for that possibility. Opponents say they'll gather signatures for a ballot initiative this fall that would seek to repeal the ordinance.

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