HOUSTON -- On the eve of a city council vote on a controversy that’s brought hundreds of people to City Hall, Mayor Annise Parker unveiled an amendment designed to douse one of the flashpoint criticisms of her proposed civil rights ordinance.
Flanked by clergy leaders and elected officials, Parker stood before cameras in the rotunda of City Hall to announce the ordinance will be stripped of its language about which restrooms can be used by transgendered people. Opponents of the ordinance focused on those provisions as one of their key arguments against it.
“It is insulting and absurd to think that any one of us standing here would want to do anything that would make our children unsafe in a public place,” Parker said. “That is not something that any one of us would do.”
Critics rallying outside City Hall, many of them church leaders, decried the mayor’s announcement as a trick and reaffirmed their opposition.
“It is unfair that we took out a restroom issue in the 11th hour that shouldn’t have been in there in the first hour,” said Max Miller, president of the Baptist Ministers Association of Houston.
The sweeping ordinance would mirror much of existing federal law outlawing discrimination based on a variety of factors, from race and religion to sex and marital status, imposing fines of up to $5,000. But the debate has focused largely on provisions regarding rights for gay and transgendered citizens, triggering impassioned arguments over gay rights.
Amid the crowd of hundreds gathered outside City Hall, demonstrators held signs saying “No to Immorality,” “We Say No to Sodomic City,” and “Homofacists in Action: ‘Equal Rights’ Ord.”
“This is a group of people that are generally homosexual activists,” said Liz Theiss, an opponent of the ordinance. “And they have obviously found someone in power in Mayor Parker to forward this bill and force it on the traditionalists in this city.”
Opponents of the ordinance prayed and sang “Amazing Grace” before a parade of church leaders spoke out against it. A number of them bristled at the notion that civil rights have anything to do with gay rights.
“Civil rights was a movement for racial equality, not sexual choices,” said F.N. Williams, pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church.”
The Parker Administration is confident it has the votes to pass the ordinance through City Council on Wednesday. Opponents say their next stop could be the courthouse or the ballot box, because they’re already discussing legal challenges and the prospect of gathering signatures on petitions to put the issue before voters in a referendum.