A bill before the San Antonio City Council that aims to protect new groups from discrimination could instead encourage bias against Christians and those who believe in traditional marriage, critics are charging.
More than 700 people turned out at City Hall to debate the proposed ordinance, which would add sexual orientation, gender identity and veteran status to existing protections against bias based on sex, race, age and religion. The proposed law has pitted gay rights activists against religious conservatives, and drawn criticism from Texas GOP heavyweights Sen. Ted Cruz and state Attorney General Greg Abbott, who charged the ordinance would trample on religious freedoms and invite lawsuits.
The Washington-based Human Rights Campaign, which bills itself as the nation’s “largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans,” said nearly 180 other U.S. cities have similar protections. However, critics said San Antonio’s ordinance would become one of the most far-reaching in the nation.
“This is breathtakingly broad and clearly an attack on religious freedom,” said Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, one of the groups working with local churches to defeat the ordinance. “There’s no question people will lose their jobs as a result of this. Businesses owned by Christians will be targeted for complaints under this human rights ordinance.”
Staver believes the ordinance is written so broadly that holding the belief that same-sex marriage is wrong, or even attending a church where the pastor speaks out against it could be interpreted as a bias – thus disqualifying one from working for the city.
“That kind of statement would be considered biased towards homosexuality and disable you from working at all with the city,” he said. “People who want to make a living will not be able to work with the city of San Antonio either directly or indirectly if they have any alleged bias in their background regarding so-called LGBT issues,” Staver told Fox News. “We will see a general persecution or certainly a significant discrimination against people of faith.”
Staver also said the ordinance could be read as requiring churches, as part of the public accommodation law, to allow men to use women’s restrooms in certain situations.
But San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro told The Associated Press the ordinance is “level-headed and overdue.” And Chuck Smith, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Texas, told the AP that claims the ordinance would result in religious infringement are untrue.
“In the context of public accommodation, you can say, ‘I think you’re disgusting, I think you’re going to hell – would you liked baked potatoes or fries with that order?’” he said. “It does not suppress any express of their beliefs, religious or otherwise.
A coalition of some 500 ministers organized to defeat the proposal including a number of African-American and Hispanic pastors. Steve Branson, the pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church, said his 1,500-member congregation is frightened about the future.
“Some of us will pay a price,” Branson told Fox News. “There will be somebody going after our Christian business people. They will try to make a few people examples.”
He said the idea that Christians could be penalized for opposing gay marriage could prompt a backlash.
“The city of San Antonio will react strongly,” he predicted. “There will be recalls. This law is going to be very punitive towards believers – especially businessmen and it will have some effect on churches.”
With reporting from Associated Press