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Gay rights ordinance in Texas draws Republican objections

ERIC GAY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
An opponent of a proposed non-discrimination ordinance signs a petition as she waits in line to enter the city council chambers Wednesday in San Antonio.

SAN ANTONIO—Gay rights victories in Texas haven’t come at the Capitol but at city hall. While nondiscrimination bills in the Legislature languish, Houston has a lesbian mayor and Austin offers health benefits for same-sex couples.

But in San Antonio, conservatives are pushing back against one proposed stride—an ordinance that’s virtually identical to measures adopted in every other major Texas city.

The San Antonio City Council is expected to vote today on amending its nondiscrimination code to include protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. The local issue has drawn top-line Republican opposition from such heavyweights as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is the early favorite to become Texas governor in 2014.

Nearly 180 cities nationwide have adopted similar nondiscrimination protections, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

San Antonio is the nation’s seventh-largest city, and Democratic Mayor Julian Castro is a rising star who delivered the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention last year. Yet the conservative backlash in his backyard is a weed in Castro’s narrative that San Antonio already embraces the political values that will spread statewide and turn Texas blue.

For Republicans, who hold every statewide office in Texas and mock predictions that a Democratic resurgence is on the horizon, the San Antonio proposal has rallied supporters and become an early stakeout ahead of the 2014 primaries.

Hundreds of congregants from black and Latino churches have also rallied against the ordinance on the steps of City Hall.

“I consider this an attempt to impose a liberal value system over the objection of millions of Texans,” said Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who as a state senator sponsored a constitutional amendment that defined marriage in Texas as between one man and one woman. “It actually discriminates against those with deeply held religious views by pushing this agenda to the extreme.”

Staples is running for lieutenant governor next year. One of his primary opponents, state Sen. Dan Patrick, said the ordinance “runs counter to the Holy Bible and the United States Constitution.” Cruz said he was encouraged to see “Texans standing up to defend their religious freedoms.”

Castro said the opposition to what he called an “overdue” amendment was disappointing.

“These days, unfortunately, it’s campaign season,” Castro said. “What else would you expect?”

Attention surrounding the ordinance spread far beyond San Antonio last month when City Councilwoman Elisa Chan was caught on tape calling homosexuality “disgusting” and arguing that gays should not be allowed to adopt. The comments were surreptitiously recorded during a staff meeting by a former aide, who then shared the audio with the San Antonio Express-News.

Chan has defended her comments and has vowed to stand for freedom of speech and right to privacy.

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