The Los Angeles Times, reporting that Houston voters rejected a city ordinance Tuesday that would have expanded transgender access to public restrooms, said that the fight had been between between gay rights advocates and those “who believed they were defending religious liberty” (emphasis added).
The Times has traditionally espoused a skewed view of what constitutes religious liberty. Writer George Skelton once noted that Governor Jerry Brown believed in religious liberty while acknowledging that he “embraces abortion rights.” Writer David Savage claimed that when the Supreme Court ruled the Christian owners of the Hobby Lobby craft stores could refuse to pay for contraceptives, the Court “expanded religious liberties,” rather than writing that the natural constitutional rights of the owners had been affirmed.
A Times Op-Ed after the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage mocked opponents of the ruling who felt their religious liberty was under assault, stating, “Some members of Congress are rushing to enact legislation to deal with a supposed threat to religious liberty posed by the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of same-sex civil marriage.” The Times taunted the bill’s creators, introduced by Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), calling the First Amendment Defense Act, “grandiosely titled.”
The Houston Equal Rights Ordinance was defeated by a lopsided margin, despite the huge funds supporting it from advocacy groups. With nearly 94% of precincts reporting, 61% of voters opposed the measure, with 39% voting for it. The Human Rights Campaign, Gill Action and the American Unity Fund gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the measure, according to the Washington Times. On October 5, campaign finance reports showed that the group supporting the measure, Houston Unites, had raised $1.2 million, while the group opposing it, Campaign for Houston, had raised only $275,000.
The Washington Times reported, “The ordinance, which included fines of up to $5,000 for preventing someone from using public accommodations, such as business-owned bathrooms open to the public, based on gender identity.”
Houston’s lesbian mayor, Annise Parker, who had tried and failed in 2014 to issue subpoenas seeking speeches and other information from five pastors who publicly opposed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, threatened, “I fear that this will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming global city and I absolutely fear there will be a direct economic backlash….No one’s rights should be subject to a popular vote. This was a campaign of fear-mongering and deliberate lies…..This is about a small group of people who want to preserve their ability to discriminate.”
Paul Simpson, chairman of the county’s Republican Party, fired back, the L.A. Times noted: “You want to talk about scare tactics? That’s what she’s doing.”
HERO was openly supported by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, and was opposed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, former Houston Astro Lance Berkman and Houston Texans football owner Bob McNair.
Jared Woodfill, spokesman for the Campaign for Houston, said in October, according to the Washington Times, “What they’re trying to do is if they can win here, they want to take this ordinance to every county and city not just in the state of Texas, but across the country … The Human Rights Campaign has committed a half-billion dollars as part of their Southern strategy to get these types of ordinances passed. And that’s why Houston is so important to them, because they realize that the eyes of the country are watching Houston right now.”