San Antonio debates 'bias' toward homosexuals
SAN ANTONIO (BP) -- The San Antonio city council is considering an ordinance that would seem to bar anyone who opposes homosexuality from serving in public office or getting a city contract.
Opponents of the ordinance, some Texas Southern Baptists among them, say it violates the First Amendment freedoms of religion and speech.
"An effort is being made to silence and in some senses violate the civil rights of the Christian community and even the community at large, irrespective of their faith, if they oppose this non-discrimination policy," Robert Welch, teaching pastor at Parkhills Baptist Church in San Antonio, told the Southern Baptist TEXAN. "They will be discriminated against if they have had any association with an organization that has had 'discriminatory' policies."
A draft of the proposed ordinance prohibits "appointed officials" and "member[s] of a board or commission" from demonstrating "bias, by word or deed, against any person, groups of persons, or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability, while acting in such public position."
"Sexual orientation" and "gender identity" are the categories that have sparked opposition.
The ordinance draft labels "bias" against homosexuals as "malfeasance" and authorizes the city council, in what would be unprecedented for a Texas municipality, to "remove the offending person from office."
Businesses that have contracts with the city must include in their contracts a statement that they do not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the draft.
Nearly 120 people signed up to testify against the ordinance at a public hearing Aug. 7, and opposition letters are pouring into city hall, according to Texas Public Radio.
Supporters of the ordinance, meanwhile, argue that similar policies in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin lend credibility to the San Antonio proposal. But Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, told the TEXAN that the San Antonio measure goes further than those cities' statutes and is "one of the most egregious city ordinances of its type," effectively barring Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin from serving in city government.
The ordinances in Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin deal with employment and housing discrimination and equal access to public accommodations as they pertain to gender identity and sexual orientation, but they say nothing about bias "by word or deed" regarding city officials or boards.
It "jeopardizes and threatens religious freedom and free speech and also tramples on rights of private businesses," Saenz said. "That is why there is a large and growing group of folks in the San Antonio area and throughout the state that have major concerns with this ordinance." He added that the opposition is an effort by people of "all different political parties."
Among the measure's critics is first-term U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
"Any attempt to bar an individual from public service based on a personal religious conviction is contrary to the liberties guaranteed us under our constitution and should be emphatically opposed," the Houston Republican said in a statement. "It is encouraging to see so many Texans standing up to defend their religious freedoms in light of the misguided proposal put forth by the local city council."
Even if the ordinance passes, Saenz said it is likely to lose a legal challenge. Cities that have attempted to enact similar measures, he said, "have been tied up for years in legal challenges and recall elections and court cases."
Welch worries that the ordinance could exclude from public office any member of a church that teaches homosexuality is a sin. He has mentioned the issue in leadership meetings at Parkhills and urges all San Antonio believers to contact city leaders to express their opposition.
If Christians remain silent on this measure, it could hinder their ability to win people to faith in Christ, Welch said. Believers who do not defend biblical standards in civic life appear selective and hypocritical when they call people to repent in private witnessing encounters, he said.
"If we keep silent at this point on a matter that is most clearly revealed in Scripture to be antithetical to the plans of God, then we have no leg to stand on when we call people to repent of any sin," Welch said.
There is no evidence that a homosexual or transgendered person has ever faced discrimination in the city government, Saenz said.
"It's very clear that the folks that define themselves by their sexual orientation and behavior and their gender identity want to use the government to punish people that don't agree with their lifestyle," he said. "It's unfortunate but I think it's very clear that's why these ordinances continue to come forward."
David Roach is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN (www.texanonline.net), newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.