The Texas Supreme Court ruled on Friday that the city of Houston must either repeal their city’s equal rights ordinance or put it to a vote on the November 2015 ballot. The July 24th ruling overturns a lower trial court ruling in April, that found that opponents of the Houston ordinance did not gather enough valid signatures to put a measure on the ballot to repeal the law. The trial court found that opponents of the law had gathered just 16, 684 valid signatures, putting them over 500 signatures short of the 17,249 required.
Opponents of the measure alleged that City Secretary Anna Russell had initially determined that they had gathered enough signatures, but that she was overridden by then City Attorney David Feldman and Mayor Annise Parker. Feldman’s staff concluded that many of the signatures turned in were signed on invalid petition pages.
The ordinance prohibited discrimination based on a number of categories, including sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability status, marital status and military status. However, in suspending the ordinance, the Texas Supreme Court argued:
We agree… that the City Secretary certified their petition and thereby invoked the City Council’s ministerial duty to reconsider and repeal the ordinance or submit it to popular vote. The legislative power reserved to the people of Houston is not being honored.
The Houston City Council, which initially approved the ordinance on an 11-6 vote, has 30 days to either rescind the law altogether or to place it on the November ballot to be voted upon. Houston voters defeated proposed laws banning discrimination against gay residents in both 1985 and 2001, but Mayor Annise Parker expressed confidence that voters would approve such a measure this time around, stating:
No matter the color of your skin, your age, gender, physical limitations, or sexual orientation, every Houstonian deserves the right to be treated equally. To do otherwise, hurts Houston’s well-known image as a city that is tolerant, accepting, inclusive and embracing of its diversity. Our citizens fully support and understand this and I have never been afraid to take it to the voters. We will win!
Hopefully, Mayor Parker is correct and the voters of Houston will reinstate the law in November, reaffirming that the city of Houston believes in equal rights under the law for all of the city’s residents.