Critics, supporters of Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance speak out

HOUSTON - It was standing room only at Houston City Hall Wednesday afternoon as critics and supporters lined up to add their voices to the debate over the proposed Equal Rights Ordinance.

It is one of the most controversial proposals in recent city history.

"The city of Houston is the only one of ten largest cities that does not have a local ordinance prohibiting discrimination in the use of public accommodations," City Attorney David Feldman said during a special meeting.

Feldman pointed to the recent scandal involving Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, who was allegedly recorded by his girlfriend saying he did not want black people at his basketball games.

"That is a public accommodation," said Feldman. "That is the most blatant form of discrimination. It exists, it's real and it happens."

The Equal Rights Ordinance would expand protection to citizens on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, along with race, sex, age and marital status.

It would prohibit discrimination in city employment and contracts, public accommodations (restrooms), housing, along with banning discrimination in private employment for businesses with 50 more employees.

More than 60 people signed up to speak during the public hearing portion of the meeting. Some wore T-shirts and stickers showing their support.

"It's not about special rights, it's about equal rights," said Lou Weaver of the Human Rights Campaign. "It's about all of us being able to be treated fairly."

The plan has received the backing of the Greater Houston Partnership.

However, members of the Houston Area Pastor's Council say they would consider legal action from stopping the proposed ordinance if it is passed by city leaders.

"I think this administration wants to leave legacy. This is her last term, but it's unnecessary at this time," said Pastor Kendall Baker.

"Fundamentally, we think it's unnecessary. There's no emergency as the mayor claims of any discrimination that warrants a massive response of city and investigative authority over private businesses," said Dave Welch.

Mayor Parker, who is currently in Australia, is expected to formally outline the plan to city council next week and ask council members to pass it.

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