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Houston City Council passes Equal Rights Ordinance after 300 citizens speak

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On Wednesday, May 28, after one of the longest sessions in recent memory, Houston City Council passed a controversial Equal Rights Ordinance by 11 to 6 votes. The Council heard 1-minute statements from about 281 citizens before taking action. Because of the Memorial Day holiday on Monday, the Council was obligated to combine the public speaker session, usually held on Tuesday afternoon, with the regular business session on Wednesday morning when public hearings are held and ordinances are enacted. The Council disposed of about 60 more routine matters on the Consent agenda in short order.

Most of the first 50 speakers were residents District C who supported the new ordinance. The area includes Mayor Parker's home and is represented by Council Member Ellen Cohen, a close ally of Mayor Parker. Many spoke of incidences of discrimination in accessing some bars, refusals for medical treatment, stressful family relations, or unfair terminations. Many, including a man claiming to be a Baptist pastor, affirmed that they were part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-gender (GLBT) community.

Most of the opponents raised concerns for possible abuses of the law by sexual predators entering female restrooms under a pretext of being sexually confused. Others cited religious objections, underscoring the Biblical teaching that homosexual conduct is contrary to the God's created order and condemned in the laws of Moses, the prophets, and the New Testament Apostles. They cited various Scriptures on a duty of Christians to behave differently from non-Christians by refusing to manifest approval of ungodly behavior. Council Member Kubosh raised a problem in response to a supporter, in stating that a merchant who took this position might be subjected to complaints, fines, and possibly jail time for acting in accordance with his or her faith, citing lawsuits in other states.

But proponents argued that morals and rules must evolve as humanity changes and new data reveal a different perception of human behavior. Other argued that at least in Texas cities like Dallas and Austin where similar ordinances have been enacted, none of the feared abuses had occurred, and all of the complaints were resolved without recourse to litigation.

Following the vote, outgoing Harris County Republican Chairman Jarod Woodfill called on opponants to launch a petition drive against “Annise Parker's Sexual Predator Protection Act” by putting a referendum on the next ballot to repeal the ordinance. Persons interested in further information on the petition may consult a web page at http://nounequalrights.com/information.

In other matters, the Council designated a new High First Ward Historic District in the Heights. The issue raised controversy because the proposed new zone was carefully “gerrymandered” to assure that 67% of the included residences were in favor of creating the zone. The oddly shaped area had the disadvantage of allowing new non-conforming structures in close proximity to the historic homes. But most proponents preferred the compromise to a failure to protect any buildings. (Item 68)

The Council also held a public hearing and later approved creation of the Aspen Heights, Houston Reinvestment Zone (Item 1a) and a Tax Abatement Reinvestment Zone for Breckenridge Group Houston Texas LLP (Item 1b)

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