HOUSTON — Leaders of San Antonio, the second-largest city in Texas, approved a non-discrimination ordinance for gay and transgender residents this week over the objections of conservatives, who have vowed to keep up the fight.
Other Texas cities have already passed anti-bias ordinances, including Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth and Houston. But this time, the measure was backed by Democratic Mayor Julian Castro, a rising star in the party and on the radar of Republicans keying up for statewide primaries in March.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party star, opposed the measure, as did Republican Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who is running for lieutenant governor, and Texas Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott, who is running for governor.
“Although the proposal has been couched in terms of liberty and equality, it would have the effect of inhibiting the liberty of expression and equality of opportunity for San Antonians,” Abbott said in a statement released before the vote.
Abbott wrote to the mayor, warning that passing the ordinance could “envelope the city in costly litigation.” State Rep. Dan Branch, a Dallas Republican campaigning for Abbott’s job, also sent the mayor a letter, asking him to withdraw the ordinance because it discriminated “against people of faith.”
Council member Elisa Chan, who opposed the ordinance, angered supporters when comments she made to staff became public in The San Antonio Express-News, calling homosexuality “disgusting” and saying gays should not be allowed to adopt.
Hundreds packed City Council meetings and registered to speak about the ordinance as final hearings stretched from late Wednesday into Thursday morning. Supporters wore red, opponents blue.
“For the most part, everyone was very respectful of each side’s opinions,” said Chuck Smith, executive director of the Austin-based advocacy group Equality Texas.
Smith said the ordinance should not have been controversial, since the focus was “fairness and equality and ensuring that everyone in the city of San Antonio is protected from discrimination” while “at the same time preserving religious liberty and freedom of speech.”
But opponents present for the vote disagreed, including Jonathan Saenz, president on the conservative Austin-based advocacy group Texas Values.
“There was overwhelming opposition from people in the city of San Antonio on this issue,” said Saenz, a lawyer who called the ordinance “unconstitutional.”
“It really puts the government in the position of being used as a weapon by folks that are LGBT advocates to punish people of faith who support traditional values,” he said. “You’ve got major issues of free speech and religious liberty.”
The measure passed by a vote of 8 to 3. San Antonio joined nearly 180 other cities nationwide with similar ordinances prohibiting bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“Today we passed non discrimination protection for LGBT,” Castro tweeted, “Whether you're white or black, Christian or Jew, straight or gay, SA belongs to you.”
Supporters were pleased.
“It’s definitely a landmark victory in the history of San Antonio and the equality movement,” Smith said.
Opponents still intend to challenge the ordinance, Saenz said. He said efforts are underway to recall the lawmakers who passed it, or to mount a citywide referendum.