In the past months, Houstonians have disappointedly witnessed their beloved Mayor, and some five pastors, now tagged “Houston 5” as they engage in some “pull devil, pull baker” ideological dispute that bear little or no relevance to the average city citizen, but instead a shameful display of governmental versus spiritual powers. Without doubt, both Mayor Annise Parker and her supposedly antagonist-pastors capitalized on the wrong premises, claiming to be representing their various constituents, whereas they aim at suppressing each other to selfishly pacify their individual bases.
The truth however, is that the so called ‘Houston 5’ do not represent the Christian faith, neither do they represent any segment of the community besides their conservative beliefs. Mayor Parker on the other hand, has stubbornly undermined Houstonians who she represents while she swaggers a controversial agenda that essentially favors nobody but her gay and transgender community.
Around June or so, Houston’s City Council in a fairly manner had passed an equal rights edict called Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which reinforced the ban on basic practices of discrimination including those based on sex, race, age, and religion. But underneath this bill, lies an unusual clause that has been causing so more controversy in the city; a part that would allow anybody to use the restroom of the opposite sex if they desire.
The controversy over a so called “Bathroom Bill” was justified based on the opposition it initially generated, but the city disregarded any public debate or town hall meetings to gather relevant thoughts from the masses they represented. Ironically, Mayor Parker remained rigid and held on to the aptness of civil rights as she led a coalition to open up the bathroom doors for unrestricted use without gender consideration. On the Mayor’s side, it can be argued that her deaf-ear approach may have been provoked by a caustic resentment from these area pastors spreading damaging sermons, hatred and disunity.
It must also be noted that arguments from both sides are substantial and should have been accorded the proper consideration before this ordinance was signed into action. Whereas the permissible aspects of this law fell within the demands of civil rights, but it is also a good argument that individual protection in the public restrooms might be compromised. Opponents of this ordinance, armed with mandatory signatures had attempted to file a petition to take the ordinance to referendum but locked horns with the Mayor Parker’s team over content validity and appropriateness. For instance, it was reported that most signatures could not be verified and worse, a long list of signers did not even live within the Houston city limits.
But a timeline of events following the “Bathroom Bill” clearly shows that Mayor Parker wanted a pound of flesh from her antagonists. For instance, The Houston Chronicle reported that the citizens gathered over 50,000 signatures for this referendum, where only 17,269 were needed to put it on the ballot. Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)–a law firm for religious liberty–claimed the City Secretary initially certified the petition, “but the Mayor and City Attorney defied the law and rejected the certification.” This rejection was what prompted a law suit (Woodfill v. Parker) filed by the initiative groups.
In response to this, the city had issued subpoenas to specifically those outspoken pastors and religious leaders who had opposed the ordinance, asking for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to HERO, the Petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity prepared by, delivered by, revised by, or approved by you or in your possession.” This was the action that put Houston, for the first time, on the world map as a domain indistinguishable from an average communist entity.
Whereas these five pastors namely; Steve Riggle, David Welch, Hernan Castaño, Khanh Huynh and Magda Hermida, were not directly involved with this lawsuits, Mayor Parker defended it saying, “The goal was to find out if there had been any instructions given on how the petition should be accurately filled out. It’s not about, ‘What did you preach on last Sunday?” The Mayor’s action thus sparked off a national outcry, changing the issue from protecting the gay rights to abuse of power, suppression of religious liberty, and bullish attack on freedom of speech. To soften this tension, Mayor Parker announced yesterday, Wednesday that the city will withdraw subpoenas.
The drama is not over, as a city well-known as the most cross-culturally diverse in the United States is now all over the social media defending some awkward decisions on issues of civil rights, religion, and constitutionality. But again, Mayor Parker is the leader of this city, and should be blamed for a lack of humility and diplomacy in handling her “bathroom law” opposition pastors. From Catholics, Anglican, to any average Christian denomination, spiritual leaders and the so called “men of God” have been known to use their pulpits to push through their political and spiritual interests. In fact, during the last presidential campaign, some conservative catholic pastors openly campaigned against President Obama, whereas other specifically aligned with various lawsuits against the Obamacare. To my knowledge, no subpoenas were issued by the Obama administration to any pastor.
The ongoing war between Mayor Parker and the coalition protesting the “Bathroom Law” has created so much distraction to the city’s business that the dire issues of property taxes, employment, minimum wage, and other pressing concerns faced by an average Houstonian have been shoved out of official consideration. Today, Houstonians wake with humiliating news of gays, bathrooms, a Mayor unrepentantly serving her gay community, and some pretentious church leaders representing their spiritual values. Whereas gender discrimination is a civil right violation, we must be careful not to hide under this privilege to set implausible standards that could potentially create unprecedented social risks. Mayor Parker must also realize that the issues of discrimination against gays are not on trial. The bone of contention is a so called “Bathroom Law” and her dyed-in-the-wool approach to pushing though her personal interests over city’s business.