The City of Houston hasn't had much luck with Mayor Annise Parker's attempt to enact Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance, (aka HERO) an ordinance to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents against discrimination, but now it looks like the Texas legislature is getting involved and all of the ordinances could be in jeopardy.
While things have been relatively quiet regarding Houston's law in recent weeks, opponents to such laws in the state had something new to chew on this week after Plano officials signed off on a similar anti-discrimination law in the ritzy suburban enclave that sits on the edge of Dallas.
Some of the same pastors that so ardently opposed Houston's law were immediately on hand to protest Plano's anti-discrimination measures aimed at protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents from, you know, discrimination. Then, because this is Texas, land of tolerance and hands-off government, -- as long as it has nothing to do with equal rights or abortion -- the whole argument got kicked up a notch when state lawmakers decided to get involved.
Rep. Jason Villalba got in on the action by filing House Joint Resolution 55 on Wednesday that proposes a constitutional amendment. If passed the resolution will basically cut such ordinances off at the knees, requiring that government "may not burden in any way a person's free exercise of religion" unless it is "necessary to further a compelling governmental interest" while simultaneously being "the least restrictive means of furthering that interest." That little bit of phraseology gymnastics may sound harmless enough, but it is similar to that used in Sen. Donna Campbell's Senate Joint Resolution 10, filed in early November. The proposed Campbell amendment will read thus:
Government may not burden an individual 's or religious organization 's freedom of religion or right to act or refuse to act in a manner motivated by a sincerely held religious belief unless the government proves that the burden is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. For purposes of this subsection, the term "burden" includes indirect burdens such as withholding benefits, assessing penalties, and denying access to facilities or programs.
New Braunfel's-based Campbell stated on Facebook the week she filed the resolution that SJ10 totally isn't intended to block non-discrimination laws. "On Monday, I filed SJR 10 to promote religious tolerance and protect the cherished and long-established right to religious freedom ... That some have purposefully misrepresented this bill as changing Texas law to allow discrimination is greatly disappointing and wholly inaccurate," the post reads.
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See, her opposition is about "freedom of conscience" y'all and has absolutely, positively nothing to do with discrimination, according to her interpretation. However, that version of things isn't really sticking, which makes sense since she was also incredibly vocal in her opposition to San Antonio's non-discrimination law passed last year.
And now there's Villalba's resolution coming out of the House, with another supposedly on the way according to Plano state Rep. Jeff Leach, via Twitter.
If this sort of constitutional amendment gains traction in the 84th Texas Legislature, cities that have passed anti-discrimination ordinances -- currently that includes Plano, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and, of course, Houston -- will have trouble actually enforcing these laws, according to the Texas Observer. (Of course, Houston's law is already bogged down in a legal quagmire -- complete with Parker's already infamous and ill-advised attempt to subpoena some anti-HERO pastors -- and has yet to be actually enforced.)
Meanwhile, the Houston-based Texas Pastor Council, after coming out vehemently against the whole HERO thing in Houston last year, is now locked on Plano's law, despite the fact the law was approved by the Plano City Council this week. Director Dave Welch told KUHF the group plans to work with pastors in the area to try to repeal the ordinance.