The Houston Chronicle reports that Mayor Parker has doubled down on her calls to institute a comprehensive non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people in Houston.
When Mayor Lee Brown took office in 1998, he issued an executive order forbidding municipal employees from discrimination because of sexual orientation. In 2010, Mayor Parker took office, she expanded this to also include gender identity. The San Antonio ordinance, by comparison, prohibits employment discrimination in all forms and bans all city-condoned discrimination, including in public housing.
Gay rights has a somewhat long and tumultuous history in this city. In 1984, the City Council, under the leadership of Mayor Kathy Whitmire, passed an ordinance protecting municipal employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The next year, voters strongly disavowed the ordinance, in an epic moment of homophobia that climaxed with Louie Welch saying the solution to the AIDS epidemic was to “shoot the queers.”
Mayor Brown restored the protections in 1998, and attempted to push through a domestic partnership package near the end of his career, in 2001. At that point, a charter amendment was approved —with a mere 52% of the vote— to ban any “plus-one” benefits for municipal employees. If 2001, the height of the culture wars and homophobia, could only muster 52% in support of discrimination, a repeal effort would surely cruise to victory today.
While I do not see why charter language prohibiting partnerships would preempt a non-discrimination ordinance, the City Attorney, David Feldman, thinks it is a somewhat substantial roadblock. “We would have to either accommodate the prohibitions in the charter or, to effectuate it as San Antonio did, we would have to put an amendment on the ballot. The cleanest thing would be to take it the voters,” Feldman told the Chronicle.
Morris then interviews both Ellen Cohen and C.O. Bradford on the matter. Both appear to support it, but Bradford is somewhat more tepid (probably in an attempt to take a shot at the Mayor more than anything pertaining to the issue).
If the issue goes on the ballot, it would hopefully do so in 2014. Next year will most likely be a pretty awful one for Democrats and Democratic values nationwide, but I would predict that in a city as progressive in Houston, considering how far most people have come on the issue, the amendment rescinding the discrimination would probably pass easily.
Perhaps the biggest immediate story on this whole issue is a tidbit at the very end of the article. Morris notes that “A campaign spokeswoman for Parker’s top challenger this fall, Ben Hall, declined comment.” I attempted to contact Hall’s campaign myself, but received no response by press time. However, Morris uses the word “declined,” indicating to me an active rejection. This would appear to me that Morris got in contact with the campaign, and was stonewalled when he brought up the ordinance.
As the astute may recall, Ben Hall’s campaign was at the gay pride parade, where it was prominently featured. I have never gotten a straight answer out of his campaign on any LGBT issues but this is a somewhat pressing inkling. At that time, I had the following words to say about Eric Dick’s campaign (who also participated in the parade but refused to support any gay rights issues):
It is the height of hypocrisy to participate in the gay pride parade yet not stand up when questioned about gay rights, specifically gay marriage. His statement come across, to me, in my humble opinion, as a whimpering sycophant, seeking the approval of the crowd but when directly questioned, equivocates as to his approval on the issue at hand.
Ben Hall would too be a whimpering sycophant if he opposes this proposed charter amendment. For the good of this city and his campaign, I hope he is not.
UPDATE: Ben Hall DOES NOT support gay marriage. Whimpering sycophant, indeed. Hall still has yet to take a position on the issue of the non-discrimination ordinance or domestic partnership benefits, but given his position on gay marriage, I have a bad feeling about the issues now.
Hall’s campaign truly needs to figure out what side of the aisle they occupy. 72% of Democrats, which Ben Hall ostensibly is, support gay marriage, as do over 80% of people under 30. To take such a reactionary position on the issue in such a liberal City is horribly damaging to his brand and his chances as a candidate.