Politics & Policy

In Houston, a Victory for Common Sense over Ideology

(Dejan Krsmanovic/Dreamstime)

In Houston, the men’s room is for men.

That was voters’ decision on Tuesday, when they voted down Mayor Annise Parker’s Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) by a margin of 3 to 2, rejecting the “anti-discrimination” ordinance that Parker, who is openly gay, had made a centerpiece of her administration. The law would have created new municipal legal protections for 15 classes, including those defined by “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” in “places of public accommodation” — language that was so broad as to include not just public toilets and high-school locker rooms but virtually every private business in the city. As Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Anderson noted, with its nebulous definitions of gender identity and discrimination, the law would have been a ready tool with which to bludgeon employers, administrators, and others who had religious or moral objections.

Such a scenario is not, as the proposal’s backers suggested, “fearmongering.” Parker herself is evidence. It is worth recalling that, had Parker had her way, HERO would never have gone up for a vote. When Houston’s city council passed HERO in 2014, residents launched a referendum petition that, with the requisite 17,269 signatures, would require the city council to either repeal HERO or put the measure up for a vote. They obtained 55,000 signatures. The city secretary, who has sole responsibility for certifying such petitions, signed off. But, with no legal authority to do so, Houston city attorney David Feldman took it upon himself to reassess the petition — and subsequently disqualified 38,000 signatures, just enough to get below the 17,000-signature threshold. The city council and Parker rejected the petition as invalid, and were promptly sued. A court eventually ordered the council to repeal HERO or to put it on the ballot, as required by the city’s charter — but not before the city’s legal team abandoned all pretense of lawfulness, subpoenaing from the five pastors who had helped organize the referendum petition “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.”

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Perhaps HERO would have been a less alarming proposition if Parker had not tried to impose it by petty, lawless displays of executive might. But its defeat surely had much to do with the fact that it was simply unnecessary. There was no discriminatory-public-accommodations crisis threatening municipal order, and Houston is no hotbed of anti-LGBT bigotry. Houston has elected Parker mayor three times. That does not mean the city is free of discrimination, but it contravenes the notion that voters’ rejection of this law is a sign of widespread hostility to gays and lesbians.

#share#The media handwringing that has followed has less to do with Texan intolerance than with the inconvenient fact that Tuesday’s results are yet another reminder that voters are less enthusiastic about the larger agenda of the LGBT movement than progressives like to suppose. In plebiscites, they continue to demand that tolerance not overstep the bounds of common sense. In Houston, de facto unisex restrooms and locker rooms present problems that far outweigh the “protections” they may extend, and to the degree that any such protections are worthwhile, voters would rather individual employers, schools, and the like arrange them than the government impose a one-size-fits-all policy.

That should be the guiding principle for all levels of government. HERO was bad policy that endangered the conscience rights of employers and individuals. There is no place for that sort of coercion. The real heroes are the ones who voted it down.


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