Houston City Council passes controversial Equal Rights Ordinance

HOUSTON - The emotional battle over the controversial Equal Rights Ordinance finally came to an end Wednesday night at Houston City Hall. City Council passed the ordinance in an 11-6 vote.

Wednesday's meeting began at 9 a.m. and continued until 8 p.m. as speakers were given a chance to add their voices to the debate before council voted.

According to the city secretary, the issue prompted 209 people to speak on the proposed ordinance -- the biggest turnout the public comments council has seen.

The ordinance bans discrimination in housing and employment, and would extend protections to Houston's gay and transgender community.

Also included among the 14 now-protected characteristics were race, ethnicity, age, religion and disability.

"This ordinance covers all of those categories," Mayor Annise Parker said moments after the vote. "It is a good step forward for the city of Houston."

While people spoke in front of city leaders, a group protested outside the building.

"I'm against it. I believe the word of God is specific about it," said William Sutherland.

Some City Council members said their offices have been bombarded with calls and emails from people who don't think the ordinance should pass.

Houston City Council Member Michael Kubosh said he doesn't like that violators would face stiff penalties.

"It's going to criminalize people that have been found in violation in the ordinance and the fine could be between $500-$5,000," said Kubosh.

Late Wednesday, Parker officially signed the ordinance, which goes into effect immediately.

Despite the ordinance passing, some are vowing to continue the fight at the ballot box.

"There are people throughout the city that will not let this stand," said Jonathon Saenz, the president of Texas Values. "There are people talking about recalls and referendums."

Opponents of the ordinance have 30 days to collect the more than 17,000 petition signatures needed to appeal the decision.

Parker said Houston was the only major city that doesn't have an equal rights ordinance.

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