Houston Pastors With Lawsuit Against Mayor Annise Parker Get Their Day In Court

Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, answers four hours of cross examination from attorney Geoffrey Harrison (right) who is defending the city’s disqualification of a petition to put an LGBT ordinance to a citywide vote. Photo by Bonnie Pritchett
Dave Welch, executive director of the Houston Area Pastors Council, answers four hours of cross examination from attorney Geoffrey Harrison (right) who is defending the city’s disqualification of a petition to put an LGBT ordinance to a citywide vote.
Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

Houston pastors finally began to get their day in court in their lawsuit against the city and Mayor Annise Parker for dismissing thousands of voter signatures to repeal a controversial pro-LGBT ordinance.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Andy Taylor, will seek to convince the jury to overturn the city’s actions, challenging defense contentions that the signatures were penned to a bad document and duly disqualified.

Geoffrey Harrison, lead counsel for the city defense, claimed in comments to Baptist Press Jan. 29 that the petition circulated by the anti-ordinance No UnEqual Rights Coalition was “fatally flawed.”

Harrison also contended that the plaintiffs’ attempts to take corrective measures after the petition’s submission to the city is a violation of state and municipal code.

If, however, the petition form is wrong, Taylor said, the city has only itself to blame, not his clients.

“The very alleged defect that the city claims causes us to lose is the document that they generated and created,” Taylor told reporters Monday, Jan. 26.

“So think about it. The government says, ‘Hey, guys, you lose because you were dumb enough to trust us.’ We trusted them that the document they gave us was the document they wanted. And that’s the one that we used.”

Last August, Parker and then-City Attorney Dave Feldman announced that the effort by a diverse coalition of pastors and civic leaders to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance had failed. The ordinance, championed by the mayor, a self-avowed lesbian, and the city’s lesbian-gay-bisexual-community gives protected legal status to individuals based on their gender identity and sexual orientation.

Ordinance opponents created the No UnEqual Rights Coalition and in 30 days collected nearly 54,000 voter signatures, far more than the 17,269 required to put the ordinance into citizen review.

City Secretary Anna Russell certified the voter signatures last July, but Feldman’s office found reasons to dismiss them. The city contends there are now roughly 5,000 valid signatures. By its count, the city disallowed more than 90 percent of the signatures collected.

Parker received national criticism when, during the course of the city’s investigation for the lawsuit, attorneys for the city filed subpoenas against five Houston pastors who were leaders in the coalition but not parties to the lawsuit. The court order called for records from sermons and discussions with congregants about HERO, as the ordinance is called by supporters, and homosexuality. Religious liberty advocates across the nation cried foul. The city backed down and Parker had the orders withdrawn.

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SOURCE: Baptist Press
Bonnie Pritchett

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