Houston Mayor Annise Parker and City Attorney David Feldman announced Monday that opponents of the city's new equal rights ordinance, or HERO, failed to submit enough valid signatures for their petition to force a voter referendum on the measure. Feldman also said that much of the petition was too problematic to be considered.
"With respect to the referendum petition filed to repeal the 'HERO' ordinance, there are simply too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook," Feldman said. "The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion."
Feldman said that out of the tens of thousands of signatures submitted, about 15,200 were found to be valid — short of the 17,269 signatures required to bring the matter before voters in November. Opponents, organized by the No Unequal Rights coalition, claimed they had at least 30,000 valid signatures when they submitted the petitions to city officials July 3.
Parker said she anticipates the petitioners will now take the matter to court, and for that reason, she said she's suspended the implementation of the ordinance, "not indefinitely, but to allow for these issues to work their way out." With that, Parker said she is confident a court will agree with the city's signature verification process.
"Passage of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is important to the city of Houston," she said. "Clearly the majority of Houstonians were not interested in a repeal process."
The HERO, which includes protections for LGBT people against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations, was spearheaded by Parker for months and was finally approved by the Houston City Council on May 28 in an 11-6 vote.
The ordinance broadly bans discrimination in the city — on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity — as well as on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, military states, religion, disability, genetic information, or pregnancy, according to the measure's language.
Last Friday, Feldman told the Houston Chronicle that many of the petition's over 5,000 pages of signatures were invalid and that the final tally of valid signatures would likely come close minimum requirement because many of the petition's circulators were not qualified to vote in Houston.
Prior to the ordinance's passage in May, Parker's office said Houston was the only major city in the U.S. that did not offer such protections for LGBT people.