HOUSTON — A judge in Houston has scheduled a hearing for next January in a challenge over the city’s LGBT-inclusive equal rights ordinance, squashing opponents’ efforts to put the measure on the ballot in November in hopes voters would repeal the law.
State District Judge Robert Schaffer on Friday ruled that the ordinance should not be enforced prior to the trial, which he scheduled for Jan. 19, 2015.
Opponents of the ordinance gathered signatures believing they had enough to get the issue on the ballot, but city officials said less than half of the petitions submitted were valid.
Backers needed 17,269 signatures to place the repeal on the November ballot. They say they collected more than 50,000, and that 31,000 were verified.
City Attorney David Feldman said his staff had found many invalid pages, most notably because some of the circulators who collected signatures were not qualified Houston voters, as required by law. In such cases, all the signatures the circulator gathered are void, he said.
In the end, city officials said opponents came up more than 2,000 signatures short of what was needed to put the measure on the ballot.
Now it will be up to the judge to decide if the city’s rejection of the signatures was legally valid.
The Houston Chronicle reports that a three-judge panel ruled that the emergency request, if granted, would have had the same result as a favorable ruling in their lawsuit that went before Schaffer’s court. The judges said plaintiffs could bring an appeal after the trial court’s ruling.
The ordinance was approved by the city council on May 28, and consolidates city bans on discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories and increases protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mayor Annie Parker had already announced the city would delay implementation of the ordinance until the issue over the petition signatures is resolved in the courts.