The Houston City Council has approved a controversial nondiscrimination ordinance broadening civil rights legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but opposition pastors continue to fight the law, hoping to put it before voters this fall.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance passed Wednesday (May 28) by an 11-6 margin, despite efforts of an ethnically diverse coalition of pastors who called the measure “deeply flawed” and a threat to religious liberty.
Following the roll call vote after nine hours of proceedings, the council chambers erupted in cheers from spectators packing the room to speak overwhelmingly for the ordinance. Testifying before the City Council, proponents recounted stories of physical and verbal abuse and discrimination against those who identified as homosexual or transgender. Fewer than 20 of the 209 people addressing the council voiced disapproval, although previous public hearings and rallies had drawn thousands who opposed the law. The scant verbal opposition at the meeting raised questions by some about the integrity of the council’s deliberations.
Coalition leaders are preparing for a referendum petition drive, needing 17,000 voter signatures to put the ordinance on the ballot this fall.
“We are together to gather signatures, together in November at the ballot box for the referendum and will remain together in future elections,” said Hernan Castano, pastor of Iglesia Rios de Aceite and director of Hispanic Church Development for HAPC.
Both sides of the debate invoked God and the Bible to defend their cause.
“I’m also here as a Houstonian who believes that Jesus Christ died and rose again,” John Gorczynski, president of the Texas Young Democrats, told the City Council. His organization fought for passage of a similar ordinance in San Antonio last year.
“Hear me! There are Christians that love you,” Gorczynski said. “The opposition is loud. The hateful are loud. But I love you and so do others.” His remark may have been in response to chants of “Just say No!” filtering into the chamber from an impromptu opposition demonstration formed on the steps of the Houston City Hall.
The divisive ordinance served to unite racially and politically divergent church leaders from a host of groups, including the Baptist Ministers’ Association of Houston, the Houston Area Pastor Council, Houston Ministers Against Crime, the AME Ministers’ Alliance of Houston/Gulf Coast, the Northeast Ministers’ Alliance, the South Texas Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship, the South Texas District Council of the Assemblies of God, and the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
Their four-week campaign against the ordinance ended in one final protest as coalition pastors walked out of the council chambers just before the public hearings began, when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender supporters of the ordinance were given what appeared to be preferential treatment on the speakers’ roster. Councilman Dwight Boykin had asked for similar consideration for coalition pastors Willie Davis and Max Miller but was rebuffed.
Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC) and a coalition organizer, voiced his displeasure.
“It was one of the most flagrantly disrespectful actions taken by an elected body toward its own constituency I have witnessed in over 30 years of involvement,” Welch said.
Click here to read more.
SOURCE: Baptist Press
Bonnie Pritchett/Southern Baptist TEXAN