Houston Rejects “Equal Rights” Ordinance

Voters in Houston rejected a so-called “equal rights” ordinance by a vote of roughly 61% to 39%.

This represents a major victory for religious liberty in Houston. As you may recall, Houston’s mayor tried to subpoena pastors’ sermons and church documents last year during the debate over the ordinance.

In 2014 the Houston City Council passed the controversial “Houston Equal Rights Ordinance” which gives special protections to citizens based on sexual-orientation and gender-identity.

The proposal threatened the liberty of religious people and institutions who object to homosexual behavior, and it arguably would have allowed a biological male to enter women’s restrooms, showers, locker rooms, and similar facilities in Houston.

Houston residents petitioned to bring the ordinance up for a popular vote. This week, voters made their position overwhelmingly clear.

A.G.: Local “Nondiscrimination” Ordinances Unenforceable

Earlier this year the Arkansas Legislature passed Act 137 preventing city or county governments in Arkansas from creating protected classes of citizens not found in state law.

Despite Act 137, four cities along with Pulaski County have passed ordinances extending special protections on the basis of, among other things, sexual-orientation and gender-identity.

Today Attorney General Leslie Rutledge issued an opinion on the five local ordinances, saying,

“Act 137 renders unenforceable any ordinance that prohibits discrimination on a basis not already contained in state law. Because current state law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, it is my opinion that Act 137 renders the five ordinances unenforceable in this respect. . . .

“This language indicates that the General Assembly intended Act 137 to ‘hold the field’ with respect to antidiscrimination law. The Act expressly prohibits localities from regulating in that field. More specifically, the Act effectively prohibits cities and counties from prohibiting discrimination in a way that varies from state law. . . . By removing the cities’ and counties’ ability to enact antidiscrimination laws at variance with state laws, Act 137 clearly holds the field and leaves no room for political subdivisions to act.”

With seventy-five counties and hundreds of cities and towns across the state, it makes sense that policies concerning civil rights and discrimination would be addressed at the state level rather than left up to each individual city council or quorum court.

The opinion comes as early voting begins in Fayetteville, where voters have been asked to weigh in on a so-called “nondiscrimination” ordinance. Even if passed, according to this opinion from the Attorney General, the ordinance would be unenforceable as it is currently written.

We have discussed before how these local ordinances carry a number of unintended consequences. Among other things, they threaten to infringe religious liberty, and some of them even inadvertently allow men to use women’s restrooms, locker rooms, showers, and similar facilities–and vice versa.

You can read the full A.G.’s opinion here.

Fayetteville Residents to Rally for Religious Freedom Next Week

On Tuesday, August 11, residents of Fayetteville, Arkansas, will rally in support of religious freedom and in opposition to the city’s proposed “nondiscrimination” act, Ordinance 5781.

The rally will take place on Tuesday, August 11, at 7:00 PM at University Baptist Church at 333 W Maple St. in Fayetteville.

Featured speakers include Aaron & Melissa Klein of Sweet Cakes in Oregon. You may recall the Kleins were fined $135,000 and ultimately had to close their business–all because they declined to bake a cake for a same-sex ceremony.

On Tuesday, September 8, voters in Fayetteville will be asked to vote for or against Ordinance 5781, a “nondiscrimination” act very similar to the one voters overturned last December. Early voting begins September 1.

The group Protect Fayetteville, who is sponsoring the rally, is calling on voters to vote against Ordinance 5781 next month.

Ordinance 5781 carries many of the same unintended consequences as the ordinance proposed last year:

  • It fails to protect religious liberty;
  • It inadvertently allows men to use women’s restrooms, showers, locker rooms, and changing facilities–and vice versa;
  • It forces business owners–like the Kleins–who want to operate their businesses in accordance with their deeply-held religious convictions to choose between obeying the law and obeying their conscience.

You can find out more about the ordinance and the September 8 election at www.protectfayetteville.com. You can download a flyer about next week’s rally here.

Photo Credit: “Old Main from the northwest, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas (autumn)” by Brandonrush – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.