The Big Conversation

Sep. 12, 2013Texas Tribune

The gay rights debate that sparked a bitter fight in San Antonio this summer may soon be moving to Houston.  Officials in the state’s biggest city appear willing to follow the lead of San Antonio, which last week — after nearly a month of heated protests — approved an ordinance that added sexual orientation and gender identity to the city’s nondiscrimination policy.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who in 2009 became the first openly gay leader of a major U.S. city, told the Houston Chronicle that the vote in San Antonio “upped the ante.”

“It is absolutely something we should do, and the majority of council members have publicly stated they are in support of a nondiscrimination ordinance,” Parker said. “But this is an issue that requires all of council to be engaged and agree it is time to move it forward. When it happens, we will do that.”

Whether such an ordinance would stir the same type of debate that roiled San Antonio — and drew the ire of several statewide GOP politicians — remains unclear. But any measure would undoubtedly face opposition from the city’s large religious community and, as the Chronicle notes, have to adhere to the city’s charter, which bans domestic partner benefits for city employees.

Regardless, the City Council is likely months away from taking up the matter. A spokeswoman for the mayor said no action was planned before the end of the year.

But some councilmembers already appear eager to debate the issue.

“Without question, a city the size of Houston, and a city that is as sophisticated and at the front lines of these kinds of things, should step forward and make it happen,” said Councilwoman Ellen Cohen, a former state representative. “It may not be easy, but we need to get it moving.”