Tuesday's vote in Houston rejecting the notorious “bathroom ordinance” demonstrates that when given the choice – a choice the outgoing mayor and her allies tried to prevent by any means necessary – voters may just reject what they’re told is “inevitable.” And they may just deliver their rebuke by a massive margin.
To be sure, Houstonians averted a clear and present threat to the First Amendment and to the privacy and safety of women and girls in saying 'no' to the so-called Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). But the vote also represents a significant triumph over the anti-democratic shenanigans of Houston’s lame duck Mayor Annise Parker.
When the ordinance was first proposed, community leaders, including pastors, spoke out against it. The mayor and city council wouldn’t listen and passed the ordinance anyway because, as the mayor openly stated, the ordinance was a personal crusade -- all “about me” she said.
Opponents of the ordinance started a petition to get the ordinance on the ballot. Despite getting three times the required number of signatures, the city, under the mayor’s direction, unlawfully and arbitrarily threw out signatures and refused to let the people vote on the ordinance, disenfranchising the city’s entire diverse electorate
The opponents filed a lawsuit, and, in the course of the lawsuit, the mayor subpoenaed the sermons and more than a dozen other private forms of communications of five pastors, who were not even part of the lawsuit and did nothing more than publicly oppose the ordinance. ADF was privileged to step in and represent the five pastors, seeking to quash the subpoenas. After intense public pressure, the mayor withdrew the subpoenas.
But the story did not end there. The city continued to fight to keep this ordinance away from the voters. Eventually, the Texas Supreme Court had to intervene and issued a unanimous decision, holding that the city had violated the right of the people of Houston to vote and ordered the city to put the ordinance on the ballot. Later, the Texas Supreme Court unanimously struck down misleading ballot language the city tried to use to confuse voters.
Yesterday, after a prolonged battle, the voters had their say – and they overwhelmingly rejected HERO 62%-38%. Democracy prevailed, despite the city’s anti-democratic actions and the intimidation tactics of the mayor and her staff. When the dust settled, the people of Houston sent a message – they will not be intimidated or fooled by a swarm of celebrities and millions of outside dollars into abandoning the First Amendment and the safety of women and girls.