Judge rules Houston nondiscrimination ordinance will stand

After months of contention, a petition seeking to repeal a Houston-wide nondiscrimination referendum has been ruled invalid by both a judge and a jury. In May 2014, the Houston City Council passed the nondiscrimination ordinance, which included protections for housing, private employees, city contracting, and public accommodations on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation.

The act, called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), was met with opposition, mostly due to its LGBT-inclusive language. A petition circulated around the city initially met the criteria for a forced repeal. However, city officials deemed a majority of the signatures fraudulent, and thus claimed that the petition failed to garner the required 10% of the ballots cast in the last mayoral election. Proponents of the repeal sued the city, claiming that they had gathered sufficient support for a repeal, and that the city's refusal to accept the petition was on false grounds. District Judge Robert Schaffer ruled that the petition successfully collected just over 16,500 signatures, which fell below the necessary 17,249.

Houston's mayor, Annise Parker, praised the ruling, saying, "I would hope that the plaintiffs would not appeal, they lost during a jury trial and today they also lost with the judge's ruling. Now all Houstonians have access to the same protections."

However, opponents of the law plan to appeal the decision, saying that perfectly valid signatures were voided by the city in an effort to disqualify the petition. Andy Taylor, the lawyer for the group against the city, said, "We intend to appeal and are confident the higher courts will agree that good handwriting is not a valid reason to deny citizens of their constitutional rights to vote."

The ordinance was on hold due to the lawsuit, and thanks to the ruling from Judge Schaffer, has now taken effect throughout the city. Valuable protections now stand for the LGBT community in Houston, nearly a year after the ordinance was passed by the city. Recently, many places across the country have contemplated introducing nondiscrimination measures for sexual orientation and gender identity, though the majority have failed. Also, some ordinances that had been in effect prior to 2015 have now been repealed. Legal protections for LGBT people are essential in combatting widespread discrimination. Thankfully, Houstonians are now afforded these protections!