The lesbian mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, is promising to do “whatever” is needed to defend a transgender ordinance in a court trial scheduled for Jan. 26.
Her opponents say that’s not particularly surprising, since she has been deceptive “every step of the way” in the case brought by a coalition of local pastors.
At issue in the “equal rights” ordinance granting transgenders additional rights adopted by the city council at the mayor’s urging last year. As a lesbian, she has described the fight for the ordinance as “personal.”
The mayor at one point created a firestorm of negative publicity for her city by issuing subpoenas for copies of pastors’ sermons.
When the council adopted it, over the objection of a multitude of city groups, a coalition of pastors collected more than 50,000 signatures to reverse it. City Secretary Anna Russell, who has served Houston for more than four decades, explained in a deposition she stopped counting signatures at about 19,000 because the minimum number of valid signatures had been surpassed. She explained she understood the city charter “provides that the city secretary determine the number of qualified voters who sign the petition.”
In her testimony, she was asked: “And based on that understanding, you did that; and the result of your work was that 17,846 signatures had been validated. And that was more than the minimum number necessary, correct?”
“That’s correct,” she replied.
But the city attorney, David Feldman, then stepped in and disqualified most of the signatures that had been collected, and the city has been fighting efforts to overturn the ordinance ever since.
Pastor Dave Welch, spokesman for the Houston Area Pastor Council, told WND the city’s unsuccessful recent move to have a judge order the case be decided by a “special master” instead of a jury was a “desperate attempt” to keep any decision about the mayor’s ordinance out of the hands of Houston citizens.
The organization issued a statement Thursday on the issue.
“The continued and increasingly desperate attempts by Mayor Parker, her City Attorney David Feldman and their legion of high powered attorneys to keep any decision regarding this ordinance out of the hands of ordinary Houston citizens has reached a new low by the assault on the right to trial by jury,” the group said under the banner of the No UNequal Rights Coalition.
“The mayor declared last week that she considers it a normal legal tactic just like subpoenas, so what we again witness is an administration willing to go to any lengths to deprive the citizens having a voice on this issue that threatens the religious freedom and public safety of Houston citizens,” the coalition said.
“In spite of an historic and unrelenting attack by Mayor Parker on the basic voting and First Amendment rights of Houston citizens, we believe the facts will prove what City Secretary Anna Russell has confirmed twice; that we did meet the charter standards, submitted valid signatures and that this should go to a vote of the people,” the group said.
When WND asked the city for comment, the reporter was referred to a website with a long list of audio recordings of mayoral news conferences, some dating back months.
At one of the recent events, Parker stated, “We will do whatever we need to do defend the position.”
Welch said it appeared that the city was going to continue its delay tactics in the case. The pastors’ attorney estimated the case could be done in a week, while the city’s attorneys estimated four to six weeks, he said.
“Our hope is the [jury] will review the facts of the petitions, look at the law carefully and come to the conclusion that the city secretary did in fact properly validate the signatures,” Welch said.
“We’ve been very open in our assertion that the mayor and the city attorney have been deceptive, literally at every step of the way,” he said.
He pointed out that there is a separate case pending before the state Supreme Court on the same issue. The court could step in to resolve the dispute, he said, by ordering the city to reverse the ordinance or put it up for a vote.
Welch said the pastors fully expect the ordinance will be on this fall’s ballot.
It was Judge Robert Schaffer in the Harris County District Court in Houston who rejected the city’s demand for a trial before a judge instead of a jury.
The city claimed the pastors have no right to a jury trial.
In a move that prompted a barrage of criticism nationwide, Parker subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors, demanding copies of any communications related to her and “gay” issues. She promptly was criticized by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, America’s top-rated radio host, who described the mayor’s actions as “vile.”
“I think what that mayor in Houston has done may be one of the most vile, filthy, blatant violations of the Constitution that I have seen,” Limbaugh said on his national broadcast. “And I, for the life of me, cannot figure out why law authorities are not pursuing this. I cannot understand it.”
Steve Riggle, one of the pastors targeted by the city’s subpoenas, issued a statement to city council members, calling on them to decide whether they were supporting the mayor in her actions.
“As a citizen of Houston for over 30 years and a community leader, I feel our city has suffered enough national embarrassment over this issue when what we have asked for all along is to simply let the people decide,” he said.
WND also reported a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to Parker, urging her to back down from her demand for copies of pastors “speeches.”
“I write to express my concern regarding subpoenas requesting extensive information from pastors who are involved in the Equal Rights Ordinance Referendum,” wrote Commissioner Peter Kirsanow. “These discovery requests threaten to have a chilling effect on religious and political speech that is protected by the First Amendment.”
The mayor’s contact information:
Mayor Annise D. Parker
City of Houston
P.O. Box 1562 Houston, Texas 77251
Phone: (713) 837-0311
Email: [email protected]