Outlawing dissent doesn’t win debate

Published on Wednesday, 20 August 2014 21:43 - Written by

The battle between proponents of religious liberties and supporters of gay rights is raging down in Houston, and it won’t be settled any time soon. The lesson for us is that we can no longer assume such battles will be fought in far-away places like New York City and San Francisco. And we need to be ready with a response.

The city of Houston in May passed an equal rights ordinance (HERO) preventing discrimination based on “sexual orientation, genetic information,” or “gender identity.”

As the Houston Chronicle explained, “Critics largely take issue with the rights extended to gay and transgender residents under the ordinance. City Council approved the ordinance in May, banning discrimination among businesses that serve the public, private employers, in housing and in city employment and city contracting. … Opponents vowed to send the issue to the voters.”

Those opponents warned that some provisions were objectionable to many business owners — such as the mandate to provide gender-neutral restrooms. Other opponents feared the ordinance would be used to silence those who would speak out against homosexuality, based on their religion.

Immediately, some groups began a petition drive to have the ordinance put to a vote by the public.

But last week, the petition drive failed. Petition gatherers failed to meet a deadline to get enough signatures to force a vote in November.

Still, a judge in Houston suspended the ordinance until January, when he will hear a lawsuit brought by religious groups and business owners over the city’s handling of the petitions.

“The lawsuit filed Aug. 5 by representatives of the No UNequal Rights Coalition alleges the city’s petition certification process, which resulted in the disqualification of more than half the petition pages, was unlawful and indiscriminate,” reports the Baptist Press.

Are the worries overblown? Perhaps. But already, the proponents of the ordinance are playing hardball.

“The Houston GLBT Political Caucus posted copies of the petition asking for a recall of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance,” the Dallas Voice reported last month. “The petition includes the names and addresses of 50,000 people. … GLBT Political Caucus President Noel Freeman encouraged people to look through signatures on the petition to see if their names were added fraudulently.”

Others saw the posting as an effort to stigmatize those who support traditional marriage.

The real point is that this battle is coming home to Texas. While we believe free markets respond best to such circumstances, the regrettable reality here is that the institutions leading the charge are college campuses across the country (both public and private), using tax dollars to resolve an issue not vetted adequately in the public square. The greater tragedy is that there is no room for dissent with the dialogue presented in Houston and other parts of the country.

It’s odd that Houston, which respects property rights so much it doesn’t have traditional zoning laws, seems so willing to rush to this debate, even before other, more expected cities do.

Certainly we believe discrimination is wrong. But dissent isn’t. Opposition to homosexuality shouldn’t be outlawed.