Houston voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative aimed at instituting sweeping new “anti-discrimination” laws, primarily aimed at sexual orientation and gender identity. Setting aside whether or not the proposed new law had any merit, the reaction of supporters to the loss tells us a lot about the state of the left today.
“I fear that this will have stained Houston’s reputation as a tolerant, welcoming, global city,” Houston Mayor Annise Parker said on election night. “I absolutely fear that there will be a direct economic backlash as a result of this ordinance going into defeat and that’s sad for Houston.”
Keep in mind, the vote in Houston wasn’t close. Despite millions of dollars supporting the initiative and the backing of most of the city’s political hierarchy, more than 60 percent of Houston voters, a predominantly Democrat city, voted down the proposed law.
Also keep in mind that Mayor Parker is openly gay. By “openly” I mean that she ran a large portion of her campaign in 2009 on the fact that she would be the first gay mayor of Houston. She won reelection in 2013 with 57 percent of the vote.
Houston voters are certainly not “closed-minded” about alternative lifestyles.
“I guarantee that justice in Houston will prevail,” Parker said in her concession speech. “This ordinance, you have not seen the last of. We’re united. We will prevail.”
Most of the opposition to the ordinance centered on confusion arising from the newly protected class of “gender identity.” Opponents of the law rallied behind a simple, and compelling slogan, “No Men in Women’s Restrooms.” They claimed that the law would have required private and public institutions to allow men who “identify as women” to use the women’s bathroom.
The Mayor even acknowledged that opposition was driven largely by uncertainty over the “gender identity” issues, not extending anti-discrimination protections to homosexuals or minorities. In her concession speech she noted:
It was clear when we passed the ordinance in council, that if we had agreed and said we’ll take gender identity out, they would have gone away. That would have been wrong then, and it would be wrong now, and it will be wrong in the future.
Supporters of the law say those fears are greatly overblown and that the initiative provided many important anti-discrimination protections for everyone, not just transgender individuals. Writer Sally Kohl, who worked on the campaign to enact the law, explained away the opponents fears at Daily Beast, “Nothing like using the sexist rationale of patriarchy to get voters to reinforce that patriarchy.”
That’s a very awkward campaign rallying cry.
It is important to note that supporters of the law tried to avoid taking this issue before voters. The law was originally passed by the City Council. The Texas Supreme Court said the city had overstepped its legal authority and ordered the city to either repeal the new law or place it on the ballot for voters to decide.
A great deal of the left’s anger isn’t solely that voters rejected the measure, but that they had to take the measure to voters in the first place. Listening to the Mayor’s concession speech or reading the reaction of the law’s supporters, one gets the impression they are flummoxed that one has to actually engage voters to convince them of one’s position.
In politics, no matter the race or issue, one can also say that opponents used “smears” or “lies” to prevail in a vote or issue. At the end of the day, though, that is also democracy, requiring the hard work of countering what one believes is “misinformation.” We do not get to simply impose what we think is “right,” but must put in the effort to educate voters and build a consensus for our point of view.
Supporters of the Houston law clearly didn’t do that. Rather than lash out at voters, backers of the law ought to take a healthy dose of humility and do the work necessary to convince voters to their point of view. Much of the acrimony in politics today is due to the fact that activists turn to courts or executive power to force through laws and regulations where there isn’t a consensus.
Simply dictating what you want may feel good in the moment, but it steadily erodes our institutions and alienates large segments of the public. In defeat, it is best to reach out to one’s opponents rather than declare war on them.
“The Super Bowl is slated to come in 2017, and there are rumblings of plans to ask the NFL to move and go elsewhere in support of LGBT people and other groups HERO [the initiative] would have protected,” John LaRue, an attorney who led the campaign for the new law, told ABC News.
As long as supporters of the Houston law want to “punish” the city’s citizens for their vote, they will never achieve what they claim they want.