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City prevails in HERO repeal petition lawsuit



Opponents of Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance failed to gather enough valid signatures to force a repeal referendum, a state district judge ruled Friday, validating city officials’ decision to toss out the petition foes submitted last summer.

After separate rulings from both a jury and state District Judge Robert Schaffer, attorneys for both sides entered dueling counts of the valid signatures, adding and subtracting voters as Schaffer responded to motions. By early this week, the counts were closer together than ever before, fewer than 1,000 signatures apart.

Ultimately, Schaffer on Friday ruled the final count of valid signatures was 16,684, leaving opponents short of the threshold required in the city charter of 17,249 signatures, or 10 percent of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election.

“The jury’s verdict and the judge’s ruling are a powerful smack-down against the forces of discrimination and intolerance,” said Geoffrey Harrison, lead attorney for the city, in a statement. “And maybe, just maybe, they’ll reconsider their misguided ways.”

See here for the background. This means that the ordinance is now officially in effect, though I presume that when the plaintiffs appeal they will ask for an injunction. Which of course I hope they don’t get, partly because they don’t deserve it and partly because the best thing that can happen now is for people to realize that the sky will not fall and the world will not end with this ordinance in effect. It’s a lot easier to scare people when there aren’t inconveniently contradictory facts on the ground.

Judge Schaffer’s ruling is here. As the story notes, the plaintiffs filed last minute briefs arguing that some signatures weren’t illegible and that some people might have moved after signing the petition and thus should be counted. Here are the city’s replies on the legibility question and on the plaintiffs’ claimed count of valid signatures, which in the end was only 17,512, or less than 250 above the required threshold. HOUEquality, from whom I got all these documents, easily debunked the “some of our signers may have moved” claim.

So now it will be off to the appeals courts – I gave my view of how that might play out in the first link above – and unless they prevail at a higher level, the meter is running for the plaintiffs, who were ordered to pay the city’s court costs. The clock is also running, as unless the plaintiffs get a final judgment in their favor by roughly the end of August, it will be too late to get a referendum on the ballot. I will be delighted if we never have to vote on this damned thing, but it’s too early to say that will be the case. Mayor Parker’s press release on the verdict is here, and a statement from HouEquality is beneath the fold.

In a win for Houstonians, a district judge today declared that opponents of the Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance failed to meet the minimum signature requirements for a ballot initiative. Today’s ruling is based on the jury’s verdict, which uncovered rampant forgeries, and fatal defects in the submitted petitions, as well as a recount by the City of Houston based on the verdict and judge’s ruling.

A coalition made up of individuals and organizations in support of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance responded with the following statements:

“As a pastor and native Houstonian, I believe religious liberty is important, and just as important is the spiritual value of love. We are to love our God, and love our neighbor, NOT discriminate against our neighbor. The city has an obligation to protect the rights of all Houstonians to be free from discrimination and to be free to practice one’s religion. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance does both.” Reverend Michael Diaz, Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church

“Today, the City of Houston and our legal system have upheld the long-established process laid out in our City Charter. The Houston GLBT Political Caucus urges the City of Houston to immediately implement the legally passed Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in order to prevent discrimination from occurring in our great city. Houston is a city where people are judged by how hard they work, the content of their character and not by who they happen to love.” Maverick Welsh, President, Houston GLBT Political Caucus

“The time has come to put court battles in the past and begin protecting the citizens of Houston from all forms of discrimination. The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was supported by a broad coalition of businesses, faith leaders and many others, should be implemented immediately.” Human Rights Campaign, National Field Director Marty Rouse

“The ACLU of Texas is proud to call Houston home, and we look forward to the day HERO is fully implemented because every resident of this great city deserves to be protected from unfair discrimination, whether on the basis of sexual orientation, race, gender, or religion.” Terri Burke, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas

“The political activists who want to repeal this common sense ordinance reject the basic values we all share about equality and nondiscrimination. They have even argued for the right to discriminate against anyone, including LGBT people and religious minorities. That alone shows why it’s so important for the city to finally enforce these basic protections for everyone.” Kathy Miller, Texas Freedom Network President

“The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance protects all Houstonians and with the favorable outcome of this trial, the City of Houston is now in the position to increase protections against discrimination for its residents. As members of a community that face ongoing discrimination based on race, sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation, we welcome a local mechanism to protect all Houstonians from facing further discrimination based on their identities.” Brandon Mack, Co-Chair, Houston Civil Rights Strategy Group

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  1. Katy Anders says:

    Good. I really hope we don’t have to hear about the bathroom “issue” again.

  2. […] the Kuff celebrated the city of Houston’s victory in court against the petition effort to force a referendum on repealing the city’s Equal Rights […]

  3. […] the Kuff celebrated the city of Houston’s victory in court against the petition effort to force a referendum on repealing the city’s Equal Rights […]