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Steve Riggle

Pastoral malignancy

Know your enemy.

A day before the Texas Legislature ended its special session this week, a session that included a high-profile fight over a “bathroom bill” that appeared almost certainly dead, David Welch had a message for Gov. Greg Abbott: call lawmakers back to Austin. Again.

For years, Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, has worked to pass a bill that would ban local policies that ensured transgender individuals’ right to use restrooms in public schools and government buildings that match their gender identity. The summer special session, which was quickly coming to a close, had been Welch and other social conservatives’ second chance, an overtime round after the bill — denounced by critics as discriminatory and unnecessary — failed during the regular session that ended in May.

But with the Texas House unlikely to vote on a bathroom bill, Welch gathered with some of the most conservative Republicans in that chamber to make a final plea. The bill, they argued without any evidence, would prevent men from entering bathrooms to sexually assault or harass women.

“If this does not pass during this special session, we are asking for, urgently on behalf of all these pastors across the state of Texas, that we do hold a second special session until the job is done,” Welch said at the press event, hosted by Texas Values, a socially conservative group.

Though the group of lawmakers, religious leaders and activists were still coming to terms with their failure to get a bill to Abbott’s desk, for Welch’s Pastor Council, the years-long fight over bathroom restrictions has nonetheless been a galvanizing campaign.

The group, which Welch founded in 2003, has grown from a local organization to a burgeoning statewide apparatus with eyes on someday becoming a nationwide force, one able to mobilize conservative Christians around the country into future political battles. If Abbott doesn’t call lawmakers back for another special session to pass a bathroom bill, the group is likely to shift its attention to the 2018 elections.

“Our role in this process shouldn’t be restricted just because people attend church,” Welch told The Texas Tribune. “Active voting, informed voting, is a legitimate ministry of the church.”


With primary season approaching, members of the Pastor Council are preparing to take their campaign to the ballot box and unseat Republicans who did not do enough to challenge Straus’ opposition to a “bathroom bill.” Steve Riggle, a pastor to a congregation of more than 20,000 at Grace Community Church in Houston and a member of the Pastor Council, said he and others are talking about “how in the world do we have 90-some Republicans [in the 150-member Texas House] who won’t stand behind what they say they believe.”

“They’re more afraid of Straus than they are of us,” he said. “It’s about time they’re more afraid of us.”

First, let me commend the Trib for noting that the push for the bathroom bill was based on a lie, and for reporting that Welch and his squadron of ideologues are far from a representative voice in the Christian community. Both of these points are often overlooked in reporting about so-called “Christian” conservatives, so kudos to the Trib for getting it right. I would just add that what people like Dave Welch and Steve Riggle believe, and want the Lege and the Congress to legalize, is that they have a right to discriminate against anyone they want, as long as they can claim “religious” reasons for it.

As such, I really hope that Chris Wallace and the rest of the business community absorbs what these bad hombres are saying. I want them to understand that the power dynamic in the Republican Party has greatly shifted, in a way that threatens to leave them on the sidelines. It used to be that the Republican legislative caucus was owned and operated by business interests, with the religious zealots providing votes and logistical support. The zealots are now in charge, or at least they are trying to be. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and increasingly Greg Abbott are on their side, and now they want to take out Joe Straus and enforce complete control. Either the business lobby fights back by supporting a mix of non-wacko Republicans in primaries and Democrats in winnable November races, or this is what the agenda for 2019 will look like. I hope you’re paying attention, because there may not be a second chance to get this right. The DMN has more.

Pointless pastor protest

Where to even begin?

Some prominent Houston church leaders put their names on a full-page open letter to the U.S. Supreme Court in major U.S. newspapers, promising to defy the court should it decide same-sex marriage is a civil right.

Pastor Gregg Matte of Houston’s First Baptist Church, Pastor Dave Welch of the U.S. Pastor Council and Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Church were among more than 80 signatories on the letter orchestrated by former Pearland pastor Rick Scarborough. The letter was published last week in the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today.

“We’re not going to quietly allow this to happen,” said Scarborough, 65, now president of Vision America in Nacogdoches, Texas. “We’re going to stand up on our biblical roots as well as our constitutional roots and if it comes to a choice between obeying God and the state we will chose God.”

He also said doesn’t hate gay individuals and wants to “reach out with loving redemption.”


In the open letter, one sentence appears in bold-faced font: “We will not honor any decision by the Supreme Court which will force us to violate a clear biblical understanding of marriage as solely the union of one man and one woman.”

Scarborough said that means churches and religiously-affiliated schools and hospitals will decline to participate in any part of a same-sex marriage. Predicting legal trouble, Scarborough pointed to a recent case of a 70-year-old florist in Washington state who faced a lawsuit after declining to provide flowers for the wedding of a long-time gay customer.

“We’ll go to jail before we participate [in same-sex marriage],” Scarborough said.

Do I really have to explain this? Is there anyone with at least a sixth grade education who isn’t being willfully ignorant who doesn’t understand that this is about states having to recognize civil marriages, and that religions and pastors will be as free to marry or not marry whoever they want to no matter what SCOTUS decides? I mean seriously, what self-respecting same-sex couple would get within a hundred miles of any of these jokers when searching for a celebrant for their vows? Assuming they wanted a religious service, of course. The whole point is that they don’t need a pastor for any of this, just a county clerk and a judge or JP. Honestly, short of chaining themselves to a courtroom door, I have no idea what these fools think they might be going to jail for. Their sense of heroic victimhood is truly impressive, I’ll give them that much. I plan to join with most of the rest of the country after the SCOTUS decision and ignore them and their silly antics as much as I reasonably can.

More on the HERO repeal petition jury verdict

KUHF has a good look at What It All Means.


“It’s tough to predict,” said Teddy Rave, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

“It looks like the jury pretty much split the baby. They answered some questions in favor of the plaintiffs and some in favor of the city. And now it’ll be up to the judge to apply the answers that the jury gave to the signatures on the petition to try to figure out which ones are valid and how many of them are valid and whether that will get across the threshold.”

The jurors were asked to consider six different questions.

For example, in Question 1, they had to determine which of 98 different petition gatherers “signed and subscribed” their oath. Without a valid oath, all signatures that person gathered are invalid.

The jury said “no” for about two-thirds of them.

But [Andy] Taylor, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, argued that says nothing about what the judge will end up ruling on that question.

“As long as you substantially comply with the purpose of the law, then the vote counts,” Taylor said.

He said as long as someone signed or wrote their name anywhere on the page, their intent is clear.

[Geoffrey] Harrison, the city’s lawyer, disagreed.

“People who sign where they’re supposed to legibly identify their name but fail to sign to actually take the oath — that’s the fundamental problem,” Harrison said.

See here for the background. What you need to see is the copy of the jury charge embedded in the KUHF story link. It gives a good idea of just how shoddy the effort of the petition collectors was. For example:

– To the question “Which if any of the following Circulators signed and subscribed the Circulator’s oath in the Referendum Petition?”, where “subscribed” means “to sign one’s own name” at the bottom of the pages, the answer for 64 of the 98 circulators was No. Among them were former Council candidates Philip Bryant, Kathy Ballard-Blueford Daniels, and Kendall Baker; pastor Steve Riggle, and former Harris County GOP Chair Jared Woodfill.

– The plaintiffs made a big deal out of the fact that the jury answered No to the question of whether any pages submitted by 13 different circulators contained fraud. But to the question of whether or not they contained forgeries, the answer for 12 of the 13 was Yes, and to the question of whether or not any of them contained “non-accidental defects”, the answer for 6 of 16 was Yes.

– Finally to the question of whether or not the circulators’ affidavit oaths were true and correct, the answer for 12 of the 13 was No. Interestingly, the one circulator for whom the answer was Yes was also the one circulator whose pages were found to contain no forgeries.

The big question is how many petition pages get knocked out as a result of all these errors, incompetencies, and forgeries. There was a meeting between Judge Schaffer and the attorneys on Thursday the 19th to discuss this very topic.

In the hearing, Judge Robert Schaffer sought input from the lawyers on what to base his final ruling on.

Andy Taylor represents the plaintiffs — pastors and conservatives who oppose the ordinance.

He said the judge will ultimately decide how many valid signatures there are left.

“There are multiple rulings that he’s going to have to make,” Taylor said. “Some of those rulings have subcategories and subparts. It’s very, very complicated.”

The jury found several instances on the petition where signature gatherers didn’t sign their oath correctly. They also found cases where the same person signed for others, and other defects. But it’s not always clear-cut when a signature is invalid.

Geoffrey Harrison, who represents the city, thinks otherwise.

“If the judge does use the jury’s verdict as a framework for the judge’s decision, this case is over for the plaintiffs,” he said. “They lose and it’s not close.”

We’ll see about that. Judge Schaffer is expected to make his ruling on Monday. The more that get tossed, the fewer pages for the city to re-count valid signatures (“valid” meaning registered voters in the city of Houston), and obviously the better the chance that there won’t be enough of them. This is, as they say, a big effing deal.

A tale of two perspectives

The Democratic perspective.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Much has been written about the importance of groups like suburban women and Hispanics in the 2014 Texas governor’s race.

But Democrat Wendy Davis said this week in her first interview of the campaign focused on LGBT issues that another, less-talked-about demographic—LGBT voters—could also be critical to her chances of upsetting Republican Greg Abbott in November.

“It’s been tremendously important, and it will continue to be,” Davis said of the LGBT community. “I’ve received some widespread support both through volunteer hours and through donations to the campaign, and what I see on the ground as I’m traveling around the state is an excitement and enthusiasm for this race by members of the LGBT community in a way that probably hasn’t presented itself for a long time. I think they understand and see that they have someone who’s a champion for them, and I’m really proud and feel privileged to have that support.”


Davis said although her gubernatorial campaign has focused primarily on issues like education that affect everyone, she’ll continue to speak out in support of LGBT rights—whether or not pro-equality stances are politically advantageous in a statewide race in Texas.

“I think Texas, just as the rest of the country, has evolved on this issue, but I want to be very clear that this is my position and perspective, and whether Texas has caught up to believing that’s a favorable position to have or not, I’m proud to hold it,” Davis said.

Even if Davis wins, it’s questionable whether she could accomplish much legislatively for the LGBT community in a Republican-controlled statehouse. But she said her voice would be important in setting the tone on LGBT issues in next year’s biennial session.

“Leadership and vision are a terribly important part of what it means to sit in the governor’s office in this state,” Davis said. “I certainly as a legislator have experienced what it’s like to see our current governor set the tone for what our work will look like, and I think that setting a tone of inclusion and respect on this issue, as well as many others that have been absent in our conversation in the state, is very important.”

Of course, Davis would also be in a position to veto any anti-LGBT legislation, and she said she could help halt the state’s legal defense of Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, which has been led by Abbott.

“As we saw happen in a couple other states recently, when the courts have favorable decisions in that regard, their attorneys general first decided they would not oppose that, unlike our attorney general, and then secondly the governors also very proudly stepped in and allowed those decisions to stand,” Davis said. “That I think is going to be something that will likely face the person who is elected in November.”

Asked whether she would, as governor, issue an executive order protecting state government employees against anti-LGBT job discrimination, Davis said she was unsure of the legal ramifications. The executive branch is diffuse in Texas, and experts say such an order likely would apply only to employees who are directly under the governor’s supervision.

“If indeed the power exists or rests with the governor to do that, I would most certainly and proudly sponsor that, sign that,” Davis said.

It’s true that there are still a few holdouts among Democrats on this, but they’re a small and shrinking minority in the caucus. The overwhelming majority of Democratic candidates and officeholders reflect the beliefs of the party faithful and a growing majority of Americans, who support equal rights for the LGBT community. This is as it should be.

And then we have the Republican perspective.

At the Republican state convention in Fort Worth, GOP leadership has been trying to cattle-prod the base in the direction of immigration reform, with mixed success. But there are other issues in the platform that fall under the general question of party “inclusivity,” issues that are stuck in neutral—perhaps none so much as the question of how the party should treat gay people.

Earlier this year, a federal court nixed the state’s anti-gay marriage amendment—and while that’s being appealed, it increasingly feels like gay marriage will become a reality across the country soon. Republicans in bluer states have acquiesced to that reality. But for a considerable number of people in Texas, the idea of homosexuality remains absolutely terrifying. And the state’s biggest names and brightest stars are still resolutely on their side.

On Thursday night, hundreds of convention attendees gathered in the ballroom of the swanky Omni hotel, at the heart of the action, at an event sponsored by the Conservative Republicans of Texas, one of the state’s largest Republican PACs. The emcee for the night was Houston megachurch Pastor Steve Riggle, who’s been active in opposing Houston’s non-discrimination ordinance and famously compared making Christians sell products for gay weddings to forcing a Jewish baker to make a swastika cake.


Enter Ted Cruz, the night’s first speaker, who Riggle called “the next president of the United States.” These are Cruz’s people, and they love him as they would Moses. Earlier, Riggle joked that each of the night’s long list of speakers would get five minutes, but Cruz could talk as long as he wanted. He was greeted by riotous applause.

Cruz lived up to their expectations. “From the dawn of time, marriage has been the foundation of our civilization. The basic building block, going back to the Garden, where God said it was not good for man to be alone. And so God made Adam a companion from his own rib so they might live together and raise children up in the world.”

Heterosexual marriage was the bedrock of the natural order. “There was a time that that was not considered to be a controversial statement,” he said. “There was a time that a duck hunter in Louisiana wouldn’t be threatened with losing his TV show for saying something like that.”

Marriage is “under assault in a way that is pervasive and unrelenting,” and the assault was emanating, first, from President Obama. Three things needed to be done to beat him back, Cruz said. Prayer was one. Legislation to protect state laws on marriage was another. And the third was to win elections, including the presidential election in 2016.

Are you scared yet? Doesn’t really matter what you’re scared of, as long as you’re scared of something, Ted Cruz is happy. There are a few confused young gay Republicans out there who think that somehow they will be able to overcome Ted Cruz and make their party officially not homophobic. I’ll just note that fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there are still plenty of Republicans that oppose it. If these young gay Republicans do eventually succeed in their quest, I’m confident in saying it won’t be while they’re young. Maybe they can work in immigration reform, too, while they’re at it. They’ve got plenty of time to get it all done, right?

Today really is the day for the NDO vote

And as we finally head for a vote, the hysteria and fearmongering have reached a fever pitch.


In just five words, Mayor Annise Parker handed her increasingly vocal opponents exactly what they wanted in the battle against her proposed equal rights ordinance: “The debate is about me.”

That comment, part of a longer utterance at Houston City Council’s last meeting, at which the body delayed a decision on the ordinance to this Wednesday, was just what political and religious conservatives have accused Parker – the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city – of doing for weeks: Pushing the ordinance to further her “gay agenda,” or to reward gay advocates for their political support.

In laying out the proposed ordinance last month, Parker acknowledged the debate would focus on gay and transgender issues because those groups are not protected under existing laws, but she stressed the proposal was comprehensive. It would ban discrimination based not just on sexual orientation and gender identity but also, as federal laws do, sex, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, disability, pregnancy and genetic information, as well as family, marital or military status.

Parker’s recent comments undercut that comprehensive message, however, as she sought to remind council members the issue is “intensely personal.”

“It’s not academic. It is my life that is being discussed,” said Parker, who faced death threats and had her tires slashed as a gay activist in the 1980s. “And while we can say around this council chamber that it applies to the range of protected groups – and it does and it is right and appropriate that the city of Houston finally acknowledges a local ordinance that respects African-Americans and Hispanics and those of different religions – the debate is about me. The debate is about two gay men at this table.”

Parker added to her comments after the meeting, saying she understands how “incredibly painful” it is for gay residents to hear opponents say, “I don’t hate gay people, I don’t hate transgender people, I just ought to have the right not to let them come into my business.”


Councilman Michael Kubosh – elected with a coalition of conservative and black voters last fall – drew scattered yells of support from the otherwise civil audience in rebutting Parker’s comments minutes later.

“I know you say it’s about you, but, mayor, this is really about all of us,” Kubosh said. “It’s not really about you; it’s about everybody here.”

Every successful politician in America has had personal reasons for running for office, and personal motivation for the causes they sought to advance through legislation. Most of them are very clear about this, as it’s a big part of the answer to the question of why they are running for that office. The personal connection they have to the cause they’re advancing – the hurt they’ve felt, or the help they’ve received – is a key component of who they are as a candidate and later (they hope) as an officeholder. It’s how they hope to win the support of the people they think should be voting for them. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. I can help. Would Michael Kubosh have established residency in the city of Houston to run for City Council if he had not been personally affected by red light cameras? I rather doubt it. Of course he will say that it wasn’t just about him but about all of the people that were affected by red light cameras and who felt they lacked a voice in the process. He wouldn’t have gotten himself into a position to be elected if it weren’t for that, and if he couldn’t make a connection to the people who felt the same way he did. How is that any different from Mayor Parker?

And I have to laugh at the “accusations” that Mayor Parker is pursuing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance as some kind of sinister payback for her “core” (read: gay gay gay gay gay) supporters. Because of course only the gayest of her gay supporters support the HERO as something that is just and fair and right, obviously. And because of course no politician in America has ever been so crass as to pursue policies that their most ardent supporters wanted. I laugh because I can envision how the Dave Wilsons and Steve Riggles and apparently Michael Kuboshes imagine this must have played out in the backroom scented-candle-filled Secret Gay Power Broker Centers around Houston: “Our plan is foolproof! We will win multiple elections, then attempt to pass an ordinance via the public legislative process involving many opportunities for feedback and a majority vote of the democratically-elected City Council! That’ll show the bastards! Bwa ha ha ha ha!” I can sure see why that would be front page news.

But just for the sake of argument, let’s grant Dave Wilson and Steve Riggle and Ed Young and Michael Kubosh and Max Miller their fondest wish and stipulate that Mayor Parker is ramming this ordinance down their throats to appease her most ardent supporters The Gays, because as noted no politician in the history of America has ever done something like this before. Let’s remind ourselves what it is that she – and, you know, a majority of the members of City Council – are pushing: An ordinance that forbids the official discrimination against people because of who they are. Under this ordinance, you can’t be fired, or denied service at a bar or restaurant or retail establishment, or evicted, or any other thing that Wilson et al take for granted for themselves because you’re gay, or black, or Jewish, or a woman, or disabled, or whatever. It’s an ordinance that guarantees equal treatment for all people, with a mechanism to enforce it. I’m always…”amused” isn’t quite the right word, but it will have to do…when I hear a Dave Wilson or one of his intolerant brethren screech about LGBT folks demanding “special rights”, as if the right to hold a job or buy a house or not be arbitrarily tossed out of a restaurant is “special” in any meaningful sense. If you look up the word “projection” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of one of these clowns begging to be allowed to keep his special right to discriminate against people he doesn’t like while complaining that their demand to be treated as equals constitutes the real special treatment. It would be kind of funny if it weren’t so very, very pathetic.

And finally, to bring it back to those five little words Mayor Parker said, I have to agree with Campos: With all due respect to the Mayor, this debate really is about all of us. I want to live in a city that values all of its residents. I want to live in a city that embraces its diversity and makes no group of people feel second class. I’m one of an increasing majority of people that sees the so-called “morality” of people like Dave Wilson for the toxic injustice that it is. I see where the country is going, and I want to get there now. There’s more people like me in this town than there are people like Dave Wilson. If we’re forced to prove it again at the ballot box this November, we’ll be ready.

[Council Member Ellen] Cohen said she expects, however, to see the mayor’s comments become fodder for a push to overturn the ordinance by referendum, an effort for which opponents say they already are gathering signatures. Houston voters twice have rejected protections or benefits for gays, in 1985 and in 2001.

“People who are opposed to the ordinance will use any and all methods they possibly can to destroy the credibility of anyone who’s trying to vote for it,” Cohen said, pointing to threats of recall elections targeting council members who vote in favor. “It saddens me. Intimidation is a terrible way to conduct a democracy.”

That’s presumably in addition to the recall effort, which who knows what will happen. In this case, we know from the red light camera experience that there’s a 30 day window after the ordinance passes to gather the signatures for a vote to repeal. We’ll cross that bridge when and if we get to it, too. The SEIU and Mustafa Tameez have more.

NDO delayed two weeks

I thought it would be over by now, but it’s not.


A proposal to extend equal rights protections to gay and transgender Houston residents, which had been swiftly advancing to a City Council vote, stalled Wednesday as council members voted for a two-week delay to allow more public input on the increasingly divisive measure.

Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly lesbian mayor of a major American city, said she had the votes to pass the ordinance Wednesday but hopes to pick up even more before the council’s May 28 meeting. The 12-5 vote in favor of delay reflected not an erosion of support, she said, but the council’s desire to address constituents’ questions.

“There were several council members who fully intend to vote for the item who asked for an opportunity, in the interest of complete transparency and openness on this issue, to have another round of conversations with their various constituent groups,” Parker said. “This has never been about getting something rushed through. It is about getting something right.”

Most opposition has come from clergy, from conservative megachurch leaders to black ministers. Opponents said they, too, plan to continue rallying votes; council offices have been deluged with calls and emails now numbering in the thousands.

The proposal, already delayed one week amid tearful cries of support and angry protestations, has been the subject of intense debate for nearly a month.

Houston political consultant Keir Murray said the delay is driven in part by some council members’ desire to address concerns from community leaders, particularly elderly black pastors, who may be uncomfortable with gay and transgender issues.

“They’ve got the votes,” Murray said. “The mayor and others are just trying to cut colleagues some slack, give them a little time and go back to constituencies and say, ‘We gave you more time to make your voices heard.’ ”

The key piece of evidence here is that an amendment proposed by CM Robert Gallegos that reduced the minimum size for companies to be subject to this ordinance from 50 to 15 was adopted by an 11-6 vote. I can’t think of any good reason to vote for that amendment, then vote against the final ordinance, so I think it is safe to say that it is headed for passage.

But first, more talk.

Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church, said neither his megachurch brethren nor influential ministers of color were engaged in the drafting of the law, saying, “We’re willing to sit down at the table and talk.”

Asked whether there were any protections for gay and transgender residents he could support, Riggle said only, “Let’s sit at the table and see.” But he added, “Gender identity is a term that is a problem.”

Councilwoman Ellen Cohen noted that scores of faith, nonprofit and community leaders have announced their backing for the proposal.

“The idea that somehow this was a secret process, particularly after how many countless hours of public hearings we’ve had over the last few weeks, is interesting,” Parker said.

Councilman Dwight Boykins pushed for the delay, saying he hopes to convene a meeting for pastors and business owners in his south Houston district: “Within the next two weeks, I think we will come to some conclusion where this city will heal this divisiveness in this city today.

“The people in this city, the ones that have questions about this ordinance, have questions that can be dealt with.”

Councilman Jerry Davis held a similar meeting in his north Houston district, and said many pastors left with a better understanding of the measure even if they remained opposed.

If CM Boykins, who voted for the Gallegos amendment, feels he needs more time to explain things to his constituents, then fine. That’s easy for me to say, since I get to do life on the lowest difficulty setting, but my scan of social media after the motion to postpone indicates that the folks who have real skin in the game are handling this latest delay with grace. My hat is off to them for that.

So this will now be decided on Wednesday, May 28. There will be no Council meeting on the 27th, so the 28th will be both a public-comment session and a Council-vote-on-agenda-items session. That means you have one more chance to tell Council in person what you think, and of course you can continue to send them emails, telegrams, mash notes, what have you. The vote may be highly likely to go in favor, but if you’ve got a story to tell it’s important to tell it. Contact the City Secretary and get on the list of speakers for the 28th.

One more thing. In my previous entry, I analyzed Dave Wilson’s latest piece of hate mail and pointed out two ways in which he was being blatantly dishonest. Turns out I wasn’t thorough enough. See the picture at the bottom with the caption about girls claiming to be “harassed” in the school bathroom by a transgender classmate? Though there is no link provided, that was an actual story that ran on some legitimate news sites. However, it was based on a complete lie put forward by a group of haters, and was subsequently pulled down after it was exposed as the fabrication it was. A reporter named Cristan Williams did the legwork, and you can read her story here, with a followup here. The original “story” was first printed last October, and a cursory Google search would at least indicate that maybe it’s not a hundred percent kosher. Given Wilson’s longstanding record of abject dishonesty, it’s far more likely that he knew all this but pushed the lie anyway than that he was confused or minsinformed. The lesson, in case I haven’t been sufficiently blunt, is that you should never, ever believe a word Dave Wilson says. Thanks to Transgriot and Media Matters for the links.

Today is the day for the non-discrimination ordinance

Yesterday’s open Council session and today’s vote will provide one last chance for fearmongering before the NDO finally passes.


Among clergy trading pulpit for soap box is the Rev. Ed Young, senior pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, who denounced the proposal for seeking to “elevate sexual preference to a constitutionally protected class.”


In Internet postings, Young urged opponents inside and outside the city to “dare to be a Daniel” in facing down the ordinance.

“Mayor Parker will continue to push the City Council to approve a ‘non-discrimination ordinance’ … more aptly described as a wide-reaching pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ordinance,” Young wrote. “It is a direct threat to the rights of all who live and work in our city.”

Young, whose congregation approaches 64,000 members, argued that the ordinance potentially would open women’s restrooms to male sexual predators dressed in women’s clothing and force businesses to serve clients whose sexual practices they oppose on religious grounds.

“Tolerance,” he wrote, “should not be defined as casting aside and acting against one’s own beliefs to accommodate someone else’s. Simply put, the homosexual community wants us to tolerate their behavior and beliefs, but does not want to give the rest of us that same courtesy. … Their rights should end where our morality and rights begin.”

Pastor Steve Riggle, of Grace Community Church, with about 18,000 members, expressed similar concerns, saying the proposed ordinance “is not just a political issue to us. As a congregation, we are outraged.”

I’m old enough to remember people like Ed Young and Steve Riggle making the same claims about the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 70s. There’s a word for this: it’s called “lying”. I don’t know why professional religious people like Ed Young and Steve Riggle think lying – “bearing false witness against thy neighbor”, if you want to go old school – to advance a political position might be acceptable. Perhaps as professional religious people they have access to a deluxe edition of the Bible that the rest of us don’t that spells out when one can lie with impunity. I would suggest to them that they would be far better off after the NDO passes to rejoice with those who rejoice and leave their anger and fear and lying behind. But I’m not a professional religious person, so what do I know?

Speaking of lying, you will I’m sure be shocked to learn that Dave Wilson is campaigning against the NDO, and in true Dave Wilson fashion he’s doing so by pretending to be African-American. Here’s the email he’s sending out. It claims to be from a “Reverend RJ Ballard” – you can see the header, with my email address edited out, here – but I know it’s from him because the email contains a disclaimer at the end, not visible on that webpage, that says:

Our mailing address is:
Houstonians For Family Values
5600 W 34th St.
Houston, TX 77092

That as we know is one of the warehouses that Dave Wilson claims to be his home. Be that as it may, Google searches for Reverend RJ Ballard and RJ Ballard Houston come up empty, unless you think this guy (the first result for the latter search) is the “reverend” in question. The photo of the “Reverend” in Wilson’s mailer is a stock photo, which you can find via Google image search for “black reverend”; it’s being used here. The photo of the family is surely also a stock photo, though I didn’t see it on a quick scan through Shutterstock. It too is easily found via Google image search, this time for “black family portrait”, which led me here. You’re such a cliche, Dave.

Anyway. The bathroom provision in the ordinance that Young and Riggle and their ilk have been lying about, will be dropped from the final version.

A paragraph specifying that no business open to the public could deny a transgender person entry to the restroom consistent with his or her gender identity had outraged conservatives. Church and Republican political leaders have used the clause to claim the ordinance “provides an opportunity for sexual predators to have access to our families.”

Members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community were equally outraged, however, by a clause that would give businesses an out if the defendant had a “good faith belief” that the person’s claim of being transgender was disingenuous.

The proposed amendment would remove that paragraph of the expansive ordinance. Transgender people barred access to a restroom still would be able to file a discrimination complaint to the city’s Office of Inspector General under the process outlined for all protected characteristics, such as race and veteran status.

“The base ordinance is still the same,” Parker said. “It says you can’t discriminate.”

A pretty simple thing, don’t you think? I’m going to give the last word to Dallas Jones, a political consultant who sent out the following to his email list yesterday:

It’s unfortunate that this conversation has been masked behind issues like religion and the question of gender identity being a choice or biological. The issue is a simple one for me. In order for Houston to be the great city on the hill that it can be, we must make a moral declaration that no one can being treated unfairly in our utopia. It doesn’t matter if someone is born a certain way or what their lifestyle choices lead them to, no one should be made to feel less than human.

HERO, as it’s being called, will also protect African American Houstonians who for too long have been discriminated against in certain parts of town. As an African American male I have witnessed others not only barred entry into an establishment, but also physically assaulted at the door for refusing to leave after being denied entry. There was no recourse for these young men to seek justice. With Houston being a part of the South, it has a history of segregation that sought to keep our great city from coexisting harmoniously. The remnants of segregation are still alive today and it is evident through the makeup of our neighborhoods. These great divides exist not only in geography but within the minds of those that reside in these historic neighborhoods, as well. HERO will seek to protect citizens from being treated differently regardless of what part of town they choose to live, work, or play.

I can understand some of the concern from the community. As a Christian, I try to practice the principles taught through Holy Scripture daily. Therefore, I can’t ignore the principles of love, tolerance, and equality of my fellow man. I have always stated my belief that the Bible is not a textbook for government; it is a religious document that guides our spiritual beliefs. In a country that is founded on the concept of religious freedom we have to embrace the idea that people have a right to believe what they choose and be who they are. When we begin to challenge the notion of protecting our fellow man from being treated wrongly then it is the opinion of this writer that we have lost our way.

Amen to that. Now let’s pass this thing already. Texas Leftist has more.

UPDATE: And “Amen” to today’s Chron editorial.

Todd tells Riggle to tone it down

Former Houston City Council member Rob Todd has a message for gay-obsessed Pastor Steve Riggle.

Helping cities grow their economies since 2011

During my days on City Council, I was considered an archconservative. Part of that reputation was a result of a lawsuit I filed against Mayor Lee Brown over his executive order extending equal rights to gay city employees. My concerns were parliamentary. However, that lawsuit emboldened a small group of bigots, cloaked in the robes of false conservatism, to publicly attack, belittle and bully the local gay community.

This made our city appear hostile, backward and unaccepting, and I believe Riggle’s tactics will have the same effect. To this day I regret that my actions were used by others to attack our brothers and sisters in the gay community.

If Ronald Reagan was with us today, I believe he would also encourage Riggle to tone it down. After all, it was Reagan who invited the first openly gay couple to spend the night at the White House. Riggle’s tactics and rhetoric threaten our ability to attract and retain jobs by ruining the world’s perception of Houston as a cutting-edge, modern city at the forefront of the world economy. On this day of worship, I pray that Pastor Riggle will warm his heart and encourage a higher level of compassion and acceptance.

Todd has spoken out on this issue before. His basic thesis is that Houston’s reputation for tolerance is a key component of its success as a modern city. I certainly agree with that, but I have my doubts that folks like Pastor Riggle do. Still, we all need to do what we can to make him see it.

Stimulate the economy with marriage equality

​If New York can do it

Helping cities grow their economies since 2011

New York City made quite a bit of money on gay marriage — 200,000 bucks, in fact.

Cash flow into the city’s marriage bureau shot up since August, when same-sex nups got enacted, according to the New York Post.

The office took in $2.26 million — up from $2 million during that same period in 2010, the newspaper reports.

From July 24, 2010 to Feb. 22, 2011 — the city clerk’s measurement period — New York issued 36,913 marriage licenses.

From July 24, 2011 to Feb. 22, 2012, however, the city gave out 41,967.

The five leaders of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry movement mention the economic argument among other reasons as they make their case in a Chron op-ed.

In Boston, where gay and lesbian couples have been free to marry for more than seven years, it has been an important benefit to the city’s economy. According to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA, the freedom to marry has encouraged same-sex couples to move to the city, in particular young, highly educated individuals – members of what has been called the “creative class” – who are vital to economic development in a post-industrial economy.

In New York, where same-sex couples have only been able to marry for a short time, we have already seen the benefits. Welcoming committed gay couples to the rights and responsibilities of marriage is resulting in an even more diverse, dynamic and forward-looking city.

In San Diego and Los Angeles, our gay and lesbian citizens had the opportunity to marry for four-and-a-half months in 2008 before the passage of Proposition 8, the initiative that amended the California Constitution and banned same-sex marriage. During that brief time, 18,000 couples married in California.

The four cities mentioned happen to be Mayored by four of those five aforementioned leaders. The fifth, of course, is Mayor Parker, who unfortunately cannot make any such boasts about her fair city. Not today, anyway. Five of the other Texas pro-marriage equality Mayors came to Parker’s defense with a press release that I’ve included below, and it’s a positive sign that all of the letters to the editor that the Chron printed about the Riggle crusade were in defense of Mayor Parker, but needless to say there’s a long, long way to go.

Anyway. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that by making marriage available to a wider population, more people got married. All those extra marriage licenses added up to a nice little bit of extra revenue for the city. I’m sure a few of those happy couples came from other states, including Texas, to take advantage of what was not an option for them at home. New York appreciates your business, y’all. Someone should ask Pastor Riggle and Jared Woodfill why they favor exporting all these weddings to other states instead of keeping them here in Texas where they belong.


Riggle continues his crusade

Pastor Steve Riggle continues to be obsessed with gays and lesbians.

Taking advantage of his mega-church pulpit on Sunday morning, Pastor Steve Riggle of Houston’s Grace Community Church advanced his crusade against Mayor Annise Parker’s public support for same-sex marriage by urging Houston’s lesbian mayor to either stand up for traditional marriage “or do the honorable thing and step down.”

Speaking at the congregation’s 10 a.m. service, Riggle promised some 3,000 worshippers “the shortest sermon that has ever been preached in this congregation.” After reading 25 Bible versions of the Genesis account of marriage as a man “leaving his father and mother and being joined to his wife,” Riggle spent the next 50 minutes reading a letter he wrote to Parker last week, summarizing her response and then reading a new letter he has written to the mayor.

The Bible has long been used to justify all kinds of reprehensible behavior. One must also be deeply skeptical of using isolated verses to claim that certain things are required or forbidden, as President Bartlett once reminded us:

But let’s be clear, this isn’t about the Bible, it’s about politics. The Bible is merely a convenient tool for achieving a political end. PDiddie is right – Riggle is basically telling the Mayor to shut up, something which he most definitely does not have the right to do. Disagree with her, criticize her, support an opponent against her, all that is fine. Telling her to shut up and remember her place, that’t not fine at all.

Delivering his marriage jeremiad in calm, measured tones, Riggle accused the mayor of violating both the Texas and U.S. constitutions she had sworn to uphold. He noted that in 2005, Texans approved a constitutional amendment that defined marriage solely as between one man and one woman. He noted that 76 percent of those voting approved the amendment, including 72 percent in Harris County.

“Respectfully, if you cannot uphold the Texas Constitution, then you should do the honorable thing and step down,” Riggle said. His congregation responded with the first of numerous ovations.

“When you speak for us as the mayor of Houston, when the people of Houston have overwhelmingly expressed their will and you speak about this issue without their expressed will, I do have a problem with that,” he said.

On the right side of history

Putting aside the fact that the US Constitution is silent on the issue of marriage, how exactly is Mayor Parker violating anything but Riggle’s own peculiar sense of propriety? Again, it’s not like she’s staged a coup of the County Clerk’s office and is handing out rogue marriage licenses. I’m pretty sure that every Mayor Houston has ever had has believed things that are counter to public opinion. Hell, Parker has frequently stated her dislike of term limits. Does that mean she’s in violation of the city’s charter?

Look, I actually have a bit of sympathy for where Riggle is coming from. His argument is that Parker, as Mayor of Houston, is speaking for all of Houston on this issue, on which he and many others clearly disagree. I get that, and I understand it. I’ve been in that position as well. But look at what Mayor Parker said at the time she joined the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry effort:

Despite personal support for awarding same-sex couples the legal rights of married heterosexual couples, Parker said it was not her role to fight for an amendment to the Texas Constitution to override the state’s defense of marriage act or to win a ballot referendum to overturn it.

Nor was it her role to push to overturn the city’s voter-approved charter amendment banning same-sex couple benefits for city workers.

Those changes “are going to have to be something that is important to the citizens of Texas and the citizens of Houston who want to step up,” said Parker. “It needs to come from the community.”

That sure sounds to me like she’s speaking for herself. I don’t have any quarrel with Riggle disagreeing with the Mayor on this – well, other than the fact that his position is immoral and untenable – but he’s taking it way beyond that point. I have a big problem with that.

He said that he was not anti-gay nor a “gay-hater,” noting that he had prayed with gay people dying of AIDS. “Just because I disagree with the life style choices that people make does not mean that I hate the people who make those choices,” Riggle said, as his listeners responded with applause.

No, you just want to deny them the same civil rights that you yourself enjoy. Maybe that isn’t hate, but it sure ain’t love. Campos has more.

UPDATE: Council Member Jack Christie is a mensch. From your lips to Pastor Riggle’s ears, CM Christie.

Even the Mayor is allowed to have her own opinion

Despite what some people might think.

On the right side of history

The pastor of one of Houston’s megachurches is asking Mayor Annise Parker to resign if she will not cease promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“Respectfully, if you cannot uphold the Texas constitution, then you should do the honorable thing and step down,” Pastor Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church wrote in an email to Parker on Friday.

In Riggle’s view, Parker is failing to uphold the state constitution, which includes a voter-approved amendment banning same-sex marriage, by advocating for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians.

In January, Parker joined 77 of her colleagues at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., in calling for legalization of same-sex marriage.

Her participation in the event, weeks after her swearing in for a second term in January, amounted to what Riggle described in the email as a “call for action regarding marriage that would violate the very constitution you were swearing to uphold.”

When asked about Riggle’s message, Parker said Monday, “I do my duty to uphold the state Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. I swore an oath to that. I take that oath very seriously, but I have my First Amendment rights to free speech.

“We all have the right to do that and I’m sorry that they (Riggle and his supporters) don’t understand the Constitution,” Parker said.

Unless Pastor Riggle believes Mayor Parker is going to take over the County Clerk’s office and give out marriage licenses as she sees fit, and also take over the Attorney General’s office to prevent any consequences for that, I’m puzzled as to what exactly he thinks she is doing that is wrong. Well, except for the fact that he thinks being gay is icky, because it forces him to spend so much time thinking about what gay people do so he can always be in a state of disapproval about it. You really should be more considerate to the gay-obsessed pastors of the world, Mayor Parker.

By the way, the number of Mayors who have joined the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry brigade is now 175, which is more than double what they started out with. You can see the list, which will undoubtedly continue to grow, here. Among them are other Mayors of Texas cities:

Julian Castro – San Antonio, TX
Joe Jaworski – Galveston TX
Lucy Johnson – Kyle, TX
Lee Leffingwell – Austin, TX
A. David Marne – Shavano Park, TX
Bruce Smiley-Kalff – Castle Hills, TX

There’s also a petition to get Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on board. You can create your own petition to get your Mayor’s support if he or she isn’t already there. There’s a whole lot more Texas cities that need to be heard from. Will Pastor Riggle call on all of them to resign, too? Admittedly, none of them are his Mayor, but then this is bigger than that for him, isn’t it? Then again, maybe he just wants the gay Mayors to resign, so he won’t be forced to think about icky gay Mayor things.

Nonetheless, Mayor Parker reminds Pastor Riggle that she is in fact severely gay in a conversation with Michaelangelo Signorile in the HuffPo.

Speaking on my SiriusXM radio program, Parker, who was elected to her first term in 2009 and won re-election in November of last year, said she’s happy to have won reelection without a runoff against five opponents (getting just over 50 percent of the vote) but that she had to “work harder” than she believes she should have had to in order to win.

“While it’s been a tough time to be an incumbent at any level of government, there’s definitely a hard-core group here that is just mortally offended that there is a lesbian mayor, and one of my opponents ran specifically because of that issue and raised it at every opportunity,” she said.

And Parker described how she’s often held to a different standard because she is a lesbian.

“It’s been interesting to me, she said. “I recently joined 90 other mayors as part of the Freedom to Marry initiative. Local headlines–there was a backlash around that. And sometimes I sort of scratch my head. Okay, I’m an out lesbian. They know that. I’m in a long-term relationship. And yes, I want the ability to marry my spouse. And here I am, one of 90 mayors from around the country, and somehow it provoked this wave of hate mail.

And the funny thing is that this initiative, it actually came from my mayoral colleagues in the big cities. This was Antonio Villaraigosa from Los Angeles. It was Mayor Bloomberg. It’s Mayor Menino in Boston. Nutter in Philadelphia. Emmanuel in Chicago. They had it worked out and then they invited me to join. This is not an initiative from the GLBT community. But because I’m a part of that, it’s like, somehow in people’s eyes down here, I’ve changed from my role as mayor of Houston into lesbian activist. Well, I’m the mayor of Houston first, but I’m still a lesbian. And I care.”

Mayor Parker has of course regularly played down her sexual orientation on the grounds that she wants to be the Mayor of Houston, not the gay Mayor of Houston, despite what Pastor Riggle would prefer. I’m glad to see her join this movement. For sure, it would have been weird for her not to do so, but still. Even with public opinion improving, it’s going to be a long fight, and winning it requires everyone’s help.

One more thing, from that Chron story:

Grace has 15,000 members, according to Riggle, making it one of the largest churches in Houston and in the nation. It is also where the Harris County Republican Party plans to have its convention in April.

Can someone explain to me why hosting the convention of a political party would not put Grace’s tax exempt status with the IRS in jeopardy? Unless of course what they have is a meeting space that is available to the general public for rental. In which case, I suggest Mayor Parker make a reservation there to host the next national meeting of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. Consider that an extension of the “Run Everywhere” principle.