Mayor backs down, drops subpoenas for church leaders

After a political and religious firestorm that erupted at Houston City Hall spread across the nation, Mayor Annise Parker has announced her city attorney will drop some controversial subpoenas issued to local clergymen.

The mayor said she changed her mind on the contentious issue after meeting with a delegation of clergymen from across the nation who helped her realize a local legal battle had exploded into a national issue.

"They indicated that they believed that I had inadvertently stepped into a broader conversation that perhaps I didn't want to make the city part of," Parker said. "And they were correct."

The concession didn't satisfy gay rights opponents whose lawsuit led to the subpoenas. Both sides are still fighting in court over a petition drive that opponents hope will force the city to hold a referendum on the mayor's controversial equal rights ordinance.

"If the mayor thought the subpoenas were wrong, she would've pulled them immediately, not waited until she was forced to by national outrage," said Steve Riggle, pastor of Grace Community Church.

The mayor's announcement is the latest development in the ongoing fight over her equal rights ordinance, an emotional debate over a broad anti-discrimination measure that evolved into a confrontation over gay rights. Social conservative critics circulated petitions to force a voter referendum, but the city attorney declared so many of the petitions invalid the effort was a failure.

Related: Mayor Parker meets with clergymen

A few leaders of the petition drive then filed a lawsuit trying to force the city to hold a public vote. A law firm volunteering its help to fight that suit drew up the subpoenas asking for a long list of materials from the church leaders, which even the mayor and the city attorney later conceded were too broad.

The mayor had previously announced the city would narrow the subpoenas demanding church leaders turn over everything from sermons to diaries, but that did little to quell the controversy.

Parker said she discussed the matter with some local church leaders she's known for years, but the arguments offered by the visiting clergymen convinced her to reconsider the national implications of her position.

"All I was focused on was Houston," Parker said. "And I was inundated with a lot of hate speech and hate mail and really virulent attacks. Well, you just kind of put the shell up when that happens."

Despite the development, opponents of the mayor's ordinance are pressing ahead with plans for a church rally on Sunday that they hope will attract people from across the country.

"Don't be seduced into believing that the mayor's had a change of heart," said Andy Taylor, the attorney fighting the city over the referendum petitions. "Today's press conference by the mayor pulling down the subpoenas is just a head fake."

More: Mayor receives Bibles from across the U.S. in protest


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