Texas

No clear decision on Houston equal rights ordinance as jurors reach mixed verdict

Opponents of Houston's equal rights ordinance deliver boxes to the City Secretary containing thousands of signature calling for a ballot referendum. KTRK-TV

HOUSTON — The city of Houston claimed victory on Friday after a jury found that opponents of the city’s controversial Equal Rights Ordinance submitted a repeal referendum petition that contained forgery and other flaws.

Opponents of Houston's equal rights ordinance deliver boxes to the City Secretary containing thousands of signature calling for a ballot referendum.KTRK-TV

Opponents of Houston’s equal rights ordinance deliver boxes to the City Secretary on July 3, 2014, containing thousands of signature calling for a ballot referendum.

But KTRK-TV reports there was still no clear decision about the more than 30,000 signatures opponents collected in hopes of forcing a ballot referendum to repeal the ordinance, approved by the city council last May.

The ordinance 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 in housing, employment and public accommodations.

The jury spent more than a week deliberating whether the city of Houston rightfully invalidated about 25,000 signatures of opponents who allegedly signed the petition.

Jurors were asked six questions about their validity. However, their answers were a mix of yes and no — a series of decisions that were far from a clean sweep for either side.

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District Judge Robert Schaffer will now begin counting which signatures are valid to see if opponents have reached the necessary 17,269-signature threshold, reports the Houston Chronicle. Schaffer retains wide legal discretion in what he deems valid.

The jury’s ruling Friday will trigger a series of legal dominoes that, eventually, will yield a definitive answer: The judge will count the signatures, issue a decision on whether the petition is valid and then the case will almost certainly go to the appellate courts.

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