The San Antonio City Council approved changes this afternoon to the city’s nondiscrimination policy, making it illegal to show bias “in word or deed” against anyone in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered community. Opponents say the ordinance criminalizes any disagreement with homosexuality.
Despite the religious community’s widespread opposition to the policy, which already banned discrimination on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, or national origin, Mayor Julian Castro called the change necessary and long overdue.
“This ordinance is about saying there are no second-class citizens in San Antonio,” said Castro, a darling in the Democratic Party who is widely seen as a surrogate for President Barack Obama.
Political observers said the ordinance, proposed by Councilman Diego Bernal with Castro’s backing, was less about discrimination in the Alamo City and more about pushing a Democratic agenda in one of the nation’s most conservative states. Castro has said his city reflects a new set of political values in a state that will soon turn from red to blue. With its majority Hispanic population, San Antonio is more liberal than the rest of the state. Only three of the 11 council members voted against the amended ordinance.
But prominent Texas Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Attorney General Greg Abbott, denounced the ordinance as an attack on religious liberty. Abbott hinted at likely lawsuits but stopped short of saying the state would take the city to court.
Supporters note that San Antonio is not the first city in the nation, or even in Texas, to adopt such an ordinance. Nearly 180 other cities have nondiscrimination policies that prohibit bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. In Texas, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, and El Paso have similar ordinances.
But San Antonio’s ordinance takes the “bias” ban a step further by focusing on speech, not just action.
“The problem I have is that you criminalize us if we speak our faith,” said Marc Longoria, 42, a pastor at My Father’s House Church. “We are Christians all the time. We don’t have an on and off switch.”
The amended policy applies to anyone seeking a contract with the city and anyone serving in city government. It also applies to anyone in public accommodation jobs, including restaurants or hotels.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Counsel, called the ordinance a “gross infringement” on anyone seeking or serving on city boards and commissions: “We fully expect that this anti-Christian ordinance will be a magnet for lawsuits and will ultimately be struck down for violating the First Amendment rights of San Antonio residents.”
During a marathon public comment session Wednesday night, 700 people signed up to plead their case. Another 100 signed up to speak this morning. Opponents bristled when supporters compared gay rights to the civil rights of African-Americans.
“My parents and my grandparents rode the back of the bus,” said Sylvia Villarreal, who urged the council to vote no. “And I say shame on them for comparing this to civil rights.”