What’s at stake in Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (Proposition 1) vote next Tuesday?

With a contentious vote over Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance (Proposition 1 on the ballot) looming on election day next Tuesday, pastors and non-profit organizations have sought to set the record straight on what is at stake with the ordinance and have voiced concerns over the ordinance.

Nathan Lino, pastor of Northeast Houston Baptist Church in Humble, Texas, voiced these concerns:

Proposition 1 is a ballot initiative on HERO, Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, a proposed sexual orientation, gender identity, nondiscrimination law. The ordinance is more commonly known as “the bathroom ordinance” as it includes regulations for the use of restrooms and locker rooms in the city limits. Any individual in our city would be allowed to use whichever gender-based restroom or locker room he or she most identify with that day. For example, any male in our city would be free to enter a women’s restroom or locker room simply by claiming he self-identifies as a female. Churches would be exempt from the proposed ordinance.

Prop 1 is an unacceptable proposal on at least two major levels. First, it is a clear infringement on religious liberty in our city. All private business owners should be free to operate their businesses according to their personal beliefs without the fear of unjust government punishment. The government was formed to be freedom’s greatest protector, not its greatest threat. We surrender to Caesar what is Caesar’s: tax money, but we surrender to God what is God’s: our conscience. If Prop 1 passes, private business owners who are Catholic, Muslim, Mormon, Christian, etc. will be forced to operate their private businesses contrary to their personal convictions.

Prop 1 is also a significant infringement on the safety and privacy of many people in our city. All women and young girls should be free to use public restrooms and locker rooms in Houston without fear of a man watching them in their most vulnerable state. This ordinance will provide cover for perverted and malicious individuals to access our women and children. Surely there are solutions to sexual orientation, gender identity and public service challenges whose costs do not have to be carried by the young girls of our city.

Evangelicals nationally may not realize this ordinance is directly related to the Houston city government issuing sermon subpoenas to five Houston pastors in the fall of 2014; the fight over this matter has been going on for 18 months. The mayor of Houston had this ordinance put into law by the city council. Fortunately, city law also allows Houston citizens to collect a certain number of signatures on a petition and force a city council decision to be brought to a public vote. Thousands more signatures were collected than the minimum necessary. Every signature was accompanied by detailed and verified information. The petitions were notarized. The mayor promptly had her city attorney invalidate the signatures. She simultaneously attempted to bully Houston pastors by issuing far-reaching subpoenas to five high profile pastors, demanding all sermons, emails, letters and text messages. Houston pastors were undeterred. The petitions were appealed all the way to the Texas Supreme Court, who ruled 7-0 that the signatures are indeed valid and ordered the mayor to repeal the ordinance or put it up for a city vote. The Prop 1 vote on Nov. 3 is the result of this 18-month process.

Eighteen months ago, a poll showed the vast majority of our city opposes this ordinance. But in the end, it won’t matter how many city residents oppose the ordinance; it will matter how many voters oppose the ordinance. The evangelical pastors of our city, including myself, are highly motivated to defeat Prop 1 as religious freedom is clearly a gospel issue and the protection of our city’s little girls is clearly a fundamental human right. For people in our city who are tired of the attack on religious liberty, this is a clear target to shoot at: “Vote no on Prop 1.” Northeast Houston Baptist Church is mobilizing our members, utilizing stage announcements and social media. Our pastors participated in a press conference with more than 100 other evangelical pastors, asking our city to “Vote no on Prop 1.”  The Houston Area Pastor’s Council is running television commercials and social media advertisements; yard signs are peppered in many yards. Lord willing, voters will force our government to find a way to provide public services to our city without infringing on religious liberty or exposing many of our citizens to harm.

David Walls wrote an article titled “5 Things Every Houstonian Needs to Know About November HERO Vote” on the blog of Texas Values, a non-profit organization dedicated to standing for faith, family and freedom in Texas. He points out many of the same concerns as Lino and draws out further implications for religious liberty.

On Tuesday, Nov. 3, Houston voters will finally have a chance to vote for or against the controversial LGBT “Equal Rights” Bathroom Ordinance (or HERO), known as Proposition 1 on the ballot. I was born and raised in Houston and I can tell clearly that this issue is the most divisive ordinance and issue to ever take place in Houston. The ACLU and the LGBT lobby group Human Rights Campaign have focused their efforts on Houston to force the city to accept their agenda, a city that is already known for its cultural diversity and tolerance long before any ordinance of this type was proposed.

The vote comes after a more than yearlong campaign by Houston Mayor Annise Parker to illegally disenfranchise voters and intimidate opponents, including efforts to silence Houston pastors by attempting to subpoena their sermons and private church communications. A unanimous Texas Supreme Court ruled against the Mayor in July ordering the Council to stop enforcement of the ordinance and “comply with its duties” to allow Houstonians to vote on the issue.

With early voting already taking place and Election Day closing in, a thorough analysis reveals the ordinance is about giving local government new power to force private individuals and businesses to affirm homosexual conduct and actual or perceived “gender identity” under threat of serious criminal penalties. Openly lesbian Mayor Parker admitted as much during the original debate over the ordinance in 2014, when she said in her own words ‘This [ordinance] is about me.’

Here is an updated analysis of the ordinance that all Houston voters should consider:

  1. The ordinance will allow men access to women’s bathrooms, shower rooms, and locker rooms (any “place of public accommodation”). The proposed ordinance requires Houston businesses to make all women’s bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms available to all who are dressed in female attire, without regard to biological sex. This will place women and children at risk. Houston Astros star and Houston resident, Lance Berkman has released a video in opposition to the ordinance for his concerns about the safety of his daughters.
  2. The ordinance would force employers and private business owners to violate their religious and moral convictions and could be harmful to religious organizations as well. It subjects individuals to criminal prosecution for refusing to participate in the celebration of the homosexual conduct because of their religious beliefs or conviction of conscience.  This includes bakers, florists, planners, musicians and others who might decline to participate in same-sex weddings, which violate their faith. A similar law in New Mexico was used to force a Christian Photographer to use her gifts and talents to affirm and participate in a same-sex ‘commitment ceremony’ that she disagreed with or face punishment by the state. Mayor Parker issued subpoenas for pastors’ sermons after numerous faith leaders in Houston talked about the issue from the church pulpit. Parker sent out a “tweet” that pastor are “fair game” for targeting by the government because of their pulpit comments. Parker later withdrew the sermon subpoenas due to enormous national pressure and backlash.
  3. The ordinance promotes government-backed discrimination by seeking to criminalize opposition to homosexual and transgender behavior. Anti-discrimination protections for race, color, national origin, sex, and religion are already protected in state and federal law. Many believe the ordinance will actually promote discrimination by imposing “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as protected classes onto the private sector of Houston, while centralizing the power of investigation, fines, and punishment under the Mayor. Within just the past year the legislatures of Idaho, Wyoming, and North Dakota declined to add sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination laws. So have the following cities: Berea, KY (October 2014), Fountain Hills, AZ (November 2014), Beckley, WV (December 2014), Glendale, AZ, which hosted this year’s Super Bowl (January 2015), Bardstown, KY (March 2015), Charlotte, NC (March 2015), Scottsdale, AZ (March 2015), Elkhart, IN (July 2015), and Goshen, IN (August 2015). Voters in both Fayetteville, AR and Springfield, MO, recently repealed the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to their nondiscrimination laws
  4. The ordinance equates race with sexual conduct. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on race (and color, national origin, sex, and religion). The U.S Supreme has declined to subject classifications based on “sexual orientation” to the “strict scrutiny” legal standard that applies to race. The Coalition of African American Pastors opposes the ordinance and numerous African American, Hispanic and Asian American leaders in Houston oppose the ordinance as well. Some members of the NAACP have expressed support for the ordinance.
  5. The ordinance increases government interference in the private sector by mandating employment of homosexual and transgendered persons. The ordinance seeks to substitute the judgment of the Mayor for that of the employer regarding what qualities or characteristics are most relevant to a particular job. Houston businesses could be forced under penalty of law to hire people that openly promote homosexual or transgender behavior that is inappropriate for their job and contrary to the business owner’s religious convictions.
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