Equality Doesn’t Mean Men in the Ladies’ Room, Houston Voters Say
By a resounding margin, the voters rejected a city anti-discrimination ordinance that could have allowed men unimpeded access into women’s restrooms.
HOUSTON — Houston voters on Tuesday repealed a strict anti-discrimination ordinance by a vote of 61% to 39%, following concerns that the law’s broad effects would allow men into women's restrooms.
John Banzhaf, a professor at George Washington University Law School, told the Daily Caller that if the ordinance had stood, it would have meant “nothing could be done” involving a man in a woman’s restroom if he claimed that he identifies as a woman.
“Many women would feel very uneasy and suffer what they regard as an invasion of their sexual privacy, if they were forced to share restroom, shower and other facilities with anatomical men, regardless of what the men claim,” he said.
The ordinance established legal protections for sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to federal protected categories like sex, race, religion, age and disability. The ordinance would have applied to all businesses that serve the public, private employers, housing and city contracting. Violations could result in up to $5,000 in fines. The law had an exemption for religious institutions.
The city council passed the ordinance by a vote of 11-6 in May 2014, saying it was intended to protect equal rights.
Opponents of the law then launched a repeal referendum. Although they collected three times the required number of voter signatures, the mayor and city attorney rejected the city secretary’s certification of the petitions. This prompted a legal challenge to force the city to follow its repeal standards.
In July 2015, the Texas Supreme Court ordered the city to repeal the ordinance or place it on the ballot, the Houston Chronicle reported. The law was in effect for three months.
Similar laws have created legal penalties for businesses that declined to take part in same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The Houston ordinance also provoked a religious-freedom controversy, when the city’s attorneys tried to subpoena documents from five Houston-area pastors who had delivered petitions against the ordinance. The subpoena sought the sermons, speeches, presentations and other materials the pastors had produced about the ordinance, homosexuality or gender identity.
Attorneys with the legal group Alliance Defending Freedom filed legal challenges to the subpoena, charging that the action was “designed to stifle any critique” of the city.
Houston Mayor Annise Parker dropped the subpoena effort in October 2014, after nationwide protests. In August 2015, clergymen filed a lawsuit against the mayor, charging that the subpoenas were an attempt to intimidate and deny the voting rights of ordinance opponents.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbot and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick were among opponents of the ordinance.
Patrick said repealing the ordinance was about “protecting our grandmoms and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters.”
“I’m glad Houston led tonight to end this constant political-correctness attack on what we know in our heart and our gut as Americans is not right,” he said at a Nov. 4 election-night event.
Mayor Parker responded to the ordinance’s election defeat by charging that opponents used a campaign of “fearmongering and outright lies.”
“This is about a small group of people who want to preserve their ability to discriminate,” she said, adding that she feared the vote would provoke “a direct economic backlash,” she said Nov. 4, according to the television station KHOU.
The ordinance had national supporters, including President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.