An ordinance in Houston that provided far-reaching nondiscrimination rights for gay and transgender people went down in flames on Tuesday night — and it wasn’t remotely close.
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance — Proposition 1 on the local ballot —would have extended bans on employment and housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national original and other classifications to gay people, bisexual people and transgender people.
Foes of the law focused like a laser beam on the transgender aspect of the law. They characterized it as the “bathroom ordinance,” saying it would allow men who wear women’s clothes — and sexual predators — to use public women’s bathrooms. They also said the ordinance would conflict with religious liberty and generate a raft of litigation against Houston’s small businesses.
By the wee hours of Tuesday morning, 95 percent of the ballots had been counted and 61 percent of voters opposed Proposition 1, according to The Texas Tribune.
Proposition 1 found its way onto the ballot in America’s fourth-largest city this summer when the Supreme Court ruled that the expansive law — which had been briefly in effect — required the say-so of the actual citizens it would affect.
The Texas Supreme Court reached its decision because five pastors had brought a lawsuit after Houston’s taxpayer-funded city attorneys, led by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, attempted to subpoena their sermons. (RELATED: Texas Supreme Court Addresses Major LGBT Ordinance)
Parker later withdrew her subpoenas but the outcry over religious liberty was not quelled.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled in July that the city had to repeal the ordinance or let voters decide.
Supporters of Proposition 1 argued that the ordinance would consolidate and expand rights against discrimination.
They released a doleful statement Tuesday night.
“We are disappointed with today’s outcome, but our work to secure nondiscrimination protections for all hard-working Houstonians will continue,” the statement, obtained by the Houston Chronicle, said. “No one should have to live with the specter of discrimination hanging over them. Everyone should have the freedom to work hard, earn a decent living and provide for themselves and their families.”
Under the defeated ordinance, local businesses that discriminate against various classes of people — including transgender people using whatever bathroom they want — would face fines up to $5,000. The failed law specifically exempted religious institutions.
George Washington Law School professor John Banzhaf noted that Houston’s attempt to grant the right of bathroom choice to transgender individuals infringes on the privacy rights of everyone else who wants to use the bathroom.
“Many women would feel very uneasy, and suffer what they regard as an invasion of their sexual privacy, if they were forced to share restroom, shower, and other facilities with anatomical men, regardless of what the men claim,” Banzhaf told The Daily Caller.
“According to what my students tell me, the problem with coed restrooms isn’t privacy as much as it is physical safety,” the law professor explained. “Female students who might not hesitate even a moment to share a restroom with male students during heavy-use time during the day are concerned that, if they have to go at night, a guy could be lurking there — completely lawfully under the Houston ordinance — intent on sexual assault or rape when she could literally be caught with her pants down. With traditional men’s and women’s rooms, the woman would immediately exit the restroom she was entering if she saw a man inside, and probably call the police. But, under the new ordinance, nothing could be done if the man claims that he believes himself to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, and so she would have no choice but to share a restroom with a male stranger.”
Banzhaf also observed that Houston’s failed law would not provide equal treatment but, instead, an affirmative accommodation.
“Blacks, Jews, and even gays do not require or even seek separate restrooms or other different treatment; they ask simply to be treated like everyone else,” he told TheDC. “But transgender people demand a special accommodation, not available to others, because of how they feel, and regardless of how typical women might feel about a person with a penis sharing their restroom.”
The vote on Proposition 1 brought national attention to Houston. Politicians including Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden urged residents to vote in favor of the ordinance. Religious figures and some famous athletes urged Houstonians to reject it.
Mayor Parker, a lesbian and a zealous supporter of the measure, now faces an uncertain future.
“If this loses, it’s got to be the end of her political life,” University of Texas at Austin department of government professor told the Los Angeles Times earlier this week.
About 130,000 Houston residents cast ballots this election.