Monday, January 19, 2015

HERO signature controversy could sink 'religious liberty' argument in Houston

Image from last year's anti-gay rally in Houston may come back to haunt supporters.

Remember last year when the controversy over a trans-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance in Houston led the press to label the city as "ground zero" in the so-called war over religious liberty?

Remember when the Family Research Council, Fox News personality Todd Starnes, Mike Huckabee  and that man from the television show Duck Dynasty (whose name I am deliberately forgetting) rallied a throng of folks in a huge televised rally which called attention to the supposed persecution of Christians and the so-called encroachment of the vicious "gay agenda."

Remember the portents of doom and fear which came from the rally ; the horror stories of Christians being put into jail for professing their faith, being forced to (gasp and swoon) serve gay customers at their places of business, of men being legally allowed to go into women's restrooms and locker rooms and sexually harass at their leisure.

Surely you do. And if you don't, you should dig into archives for these memories. Savor and cherish them because, it's beginning to look like those folks responsible for these lies and moral panics are about to get a huge goose egg on their faces.

Last year, Houston passed a trans-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance. Opponents began a petition drive to put the ordinance on the ballot as a referendum. They said they gained over 50,000, which was well above the 17,269 signatures required.

However, there were problems. The petition drive fell short because the city found "irregularities" regarding many of the signatures. According to The Huffington Post:

Critics contend the count is not as impressive as it looked. In August, then-Houston City Attorney David Feldman announced that fewer than half of the signatures appeared to be valid, leaving the final tally at just over 15,000 signatures -- too low to trigger a referendum. Among other problems, Feldman said that some collectors were not qualified Houston voters -- which would invalidate all signatures collected by those people -- and that many signatures were not those of registered Houston voters.

Subsequently, those pushing for the referendum sued the city. As a part of gathering a defense, city lawyers subpoenaed sermons of pastors involved in the petition drive, which played into the hands of anti-gay groups and personalities. These entities spun the subpoena request into an attack on Christianity itself. Even when the lawyers rescinded the request, these folks were on a roll and would not be stopped.

They held a huge event, garnering lots of press, in which they exploited the idea that gays were persecuting Christians and attempting to silence them.

However, months after this event, there have been new developments and none of them have been good for those pushing for the referendum against the ordinance:
The pretrial proceedings do not seem to have gone well for the coalition. Earlier this month, a handwriting expert found that more than half of the signatures were scrawled or unreadable, and that hundreds of the signatures appear to have been written by a single person or the same small group of people. The expert also identified misspelled names, duplicate names and photocopied pages. One signature gatherer has already admitted that he was not present when some of the petitions he submitted were signed, despite previously swearing that he had personally gathered all the signatures that he submitted.

And then there is a matter of the signatures themselves.  According to The Houston Press Blog:

 The November motions include a sampling of the HERO signatures that City attorneys say were "purportedly from many different people, all of whom have the same handwriting." 

Barring any delays, the trial over HERO should begin on January 20 and it will most likely be a jury trial. Why a jury trial? Because those pushing for the referendum demanded a jury trial rather than one decided by a judge. This means that jury members have to possibly look over signature after signature to determine validity.

If it is determined that those against the HERO ordinance engaged in chicanery and fraud, then I would suggest that the lgbt community forsake the high road.

Every time the anti-gay right starts with their 'religious liberty' nonsense, we should throw the Houston situation in their face every chance we get.

Every. Chance. We. Get.


Anonymous said...

I know this has been said many times, recently, but, they are out of arguments. All that is left for them is to keep fishing with the same rhetoric in the hopes there is still one big catch available to them. There will still be the problem of attempting to place discrimination into law, such as in Virginia and, alas, my home state of Indiana. Cities and towns will also be looking for ways to ignore Federal law. Which brings up a further step.

Once the marriage equality issue is settled there may be an even larger issue to address: that of "religious liberty." (I, purposely, did not capitalize.)Unless SCOTUS puts their collective foot down, which they can't without a case before them, it could be many more years before attempts to incorporate religion into civil law are stopped.

I must, once again, leave my soap box. There is so much to do on so many fronts.

Thomas Waters said...

I don't disagree, but I wish your post had a few more bits of information in it. For example, I think it is important for the LGBTQ community to understand why the city's supeaneas included ministers who were not part of the signature gathering, and I hope it becomes clearer why sermons were supeaneaed. Lastly, there seemed to be asnafu where some official approved or certified the signatures before they were determined to be unacceptable. I think the City was entirely in the right, but these are important details to this controversy.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I wonder how many of the people whose names ended up on the petitions even know their names got on there. It would be nice to see a few of them on the stand.

"Mr South, could you please point to your signature on this paper?"

"I see my name, Ms Lawyer, but I don't see my signature."