News (USA)

Houston LGBT-inclusive equal rights ordinance prevails as judge backs city in court challenge


HOUSTON — A judge has knocked down a conservative group’s court challenge to new protections Houston officials granted gay and transgender residents.

A state judge ruled Friday that the city of Houston was within its rights to reject a petition circulated by conservative activists that would have referred the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance to city voters.

In February, a jury found the petitions contained widespread forgery, and on Friday the judge agreed with city officials that the petition bore insufficient valid signatures to compel a referendum.

The Houston Chronicle reports:

After separate rulings from both a jury and state District Judge Robert Schaffer, attorneys for both sides entered dueling counts of the valid signatures, adding and subtracting voters as Schaffer responded to motions. By early this week, the counts were closer together than ever before, fewer than 1,000 signatures apart.

Ultimately, Schaffer on Friday ruled the final count of valid signatures was 16,684, leaving opponents short of the threshold required in the city charter of 17,249 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election.

“The jury’s verdict and the judge’s ruling are a powerful smack-down against the forces of discrimination and intolerance,” said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city, in a statement. “And maybe, just maybe, they’ll reconsider their misguided ways.”

Houston’s openly gay mayor, Annise Parker, hailed the ruling as “a great victory” and “a great day for civil rights in Houston.”

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The ordinance, which 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, has been on hold during trial, but is now in effect, according to a city spokeswoman.

Andy Taylor, the petitioners’ attorney, says his clients aren’t giving up and plan to appeal the ruling.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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