The San Antonio City Council approved a non-discrimination bill that will protect new groups from discrimination, but critics charge it will encourage bias against Christians and those who believe in traditional marriage.
The council voted 8-3 to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of classes protected from discrimination.
“This ordinance does ensure that everybody in our community is created equally,” Councilman Diego Bernal told MySanAntonio.com.
Mayor Julian Castro brushed aside concerns from Christians that it might make them second class citizens.
“This ordinance fundamentally is about ensuring whether you’re white or black, Christan or Jew, straight or gay, this city belongs to you,” Castro said. “This ordinance is about saying there are no second-class citizens in San Antonio.”
The ordinance has pitted gay rights activists against religious conservatives who charged the ordinance would trample on religious freedoms and invite lawsuits.
Kelly Shackelford, president of the Liberty Institute, told Fox News it is a “sad day for San Antonians, for Texans and for all Americans.”
He accused city leaders of giving the LGBT community special status “at the expense of the religious liberty rights of its citizens and businesses.”
“The ordinance, plain and simple, stifles free speech and tramples on religious liberty, targeting citizens and businesses that hold traditional views about sexuality,” he said.
He said the ripple effect of the law could go far beyond San Antonio.
“This should alarm every American who values their religious freedom,” Shackelford said.
Mat Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, was one of the groups working to defeat the measure.
“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,” he said.
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.
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