HOUSTON -- The emotional debate over Mayor Annise Parker’s proposed equal rights ordinance will continue for two more weeks after Houston City Council decided to delay voting on the issue.
A majority of council members, including the mayor herself, agreed to postpone the vote after opponents raised questions about an amendment introduced a day earlier.
The mayor hoped the amendment – dropping a provision that specifically mentioned transgendered people choosing whether to use restrooms for men or women – would defuse a flashpoint issue. But socially conservative critics decried the move as a trick and it generated new concerns among some council members, who supported delaying the vote.
In the end, although she clearly had the votes to win, even the mayor supported postponing the vote for two weeks until just after Memorial Day. But opponents of the ordinance saw it as a temporary victory and supporters voiced disappointment.
“I’m happy there is a delay,” said Max Miller, the president of the Houston Baptist Ministers Association. “I wish the ordinance would go away completely.”
“It really does offend me that the haters won today,” said Monica Roberts, a transgender supporter of the ordinance. “Yeah, our opponents won today by getting a delay.”
The postponement was an anti-climactic development on a day when the passionate debate was expected to end with a political victory for Parker. Citizens on both sides of the issue have packed council chambers for weeks and flooded council offices with emails and phone calls. A day before the scheduled vote, a coalition of clergy leaders organized a rally outside City Hall that attracted hundreds of opponents.
The sweeping ordinance mirrors 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.
As the mayor and council members worked their way through a series of amendments – including one that would eventually apply its provisions to businesses with as few as 15 employees -- Parker voiced her support in starkly personal terms.
“It is personal,” Parker said. “It is not academic. It is my life that is being discussed … The debate is about me. The debate is about two gay men at this table. It is very, intensely personal.”
One of the council members at the table, who complained Parker hadn’t adequately considered community input on the ordinance, pounced on the mayor’s remarks.
“I know you say it’s about you, but mayor, this is really about all of us,” said Councilmember Michael Kubosh. “It’s not about you, it’s about everybody here.”
“This is a personal agenda by the mayor of this city,” said Willie Davis, the pastor of MacGregor Park Community Baptist Church. “And other people are being affected by it.”
The postponement sets the stage for two more weeks of public debate, including a town hall meeting promised by opponents.
It also sets the stage for an especially long city council meeting two days after Memorial Day, The mayor advised council members to clear their calendars and prepare themselves to work late into the night, because a long list of citizens will probably sign up to address them before the final vote.
The mayor voiced confidence she will win the vote. Opponents are already preparing a petition drive to force a referendum that would put the issue before Houston voters.