In her final inaugural address, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the first openly gay mayor of a major American city, repeated her call for the City Council to pass an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. Similar legislation has been proposed in the past, but to no avail.
Houston is the only major city in Texas that does not offer comprehensive citywide LGBT protections, according to the Lone Star Q.
Parker's Call to Action
"To ensure the full participation of every Houstonian in the business and civic life of this great city, it is time to pass a comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance that adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the protections most Houstonians take for granted," Parker said in her inaugural address.
To pass a city-wide ordinance, the council would need voter approval. Because of the city's charter amendment, an LGBT ordinance similar to the ones enacted in other cities -- including Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin or the one recently passed in San Antonio, the second-largest city in Texas -- would have to go through a referendum.
Employment Discrimination Obstacles
Targeting employment discrimination in the ordinance presents a number of logistical issues, as a 2001 voter-approved amendment to the city's charter prohibits employees' unmarried domestic partners -- both same-sex and opposite-sex -- from receiving employment benefits.
Parker is currently involved in the throes of litigation over her city's health and life insurance benefits for same-sex spouses of city employees. On the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Windsor, Parker declared that Houston would provide its legally married employees and their same-sex spouses with health and life insurance benefits. But Judge Lisa Millard granted a TRO against Houston's enforcement of the new policy, pending hearing the actual merits of the case.
To get around the employment benefits issue and get an anti-discrimination ordinance passed, proponents "would have to either accommodate the prohibitions in the charter or, to effectuate it as San Antonio did, [they] would have to put an amendment on the ballot," City Attorney David Feldman told the Houston Chronicle.
To Feldman and many others, the cleanest and most straightforward option would be to take it to the voters.
- Mayor Annise Parker says it's time for LGBT protections in Houston (dallasvoice.com)
- Free Legal Aid in Houston (FindLaw)
- Can You Be Fired for Telling Your Boss You're Trans? (FindLaw's Houston Employment Law Blog)
- Walmart Employee Claims That he Faced Homophobic Discrimination (FindLaw's Houston Employment Law Blog)