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Opponents of Houston equal rights ordinance fail to qualify for ballot

Opponents of Houston equal rights ordinance fail to qualify for ballot

HOUSTON — Opponents of Houston’s LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) fell short of qualifying for a ballot referendum, Mayor Annise Parker announced Monday afternoon.

The petition needed at least 17,269 valid signatures from registered Houston voters to put a repeal of the ordinance before voters in November.

City Attorney David Feldman said Monday the number of valid signatures submitted for the petition came to only 15,247.

The group behind the repeal effort submitted more than 5,000 petition pages last month containing approximately 31,000 signatures.

But 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 would be void, Feldman said.

Other issues included names on valid pages that did not belong to registered Houston voters, Feldman said, and some signatures were gathered prior to June 3, when the ordinance was published and the petition drive could begin.

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 for gay and transgender residents.

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Supporters, including Parker, said the measure is about offering protections at the local level against all forms of discrimination in housing, employment and services provided by private businesses such as hotels and restaurants.

Opponents, however, say the ordinance is an intrusion on their rights, and that they do not want the LGBT “lifestyle” to be imposed on their communities.

Parker said she “fully expects” opponents to take legal action challenging the city’s findings, and will delay implementation of the ordinance for now.

“I’m confident that the courts will agree with the strict interpretation of the rules set out in the charter for the requirements and that the courts will protect the integrity of our petition process,” she said.

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