As Houstonians vote Tuesday on whether to uphold the city's bathroom ordinance, the prominent LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign is claiming that "people of faith" support the city's passage of the measure.
Although Houston's Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), which is a broad scoping nondiscrimination ordinance championed by lesbian Mayor Annise Parker, was passed by the city council in May 2014, many conservative Christians and other concerned residents were alarmed that the ordinance allows people to use public bathrooms of the gender they identify with. This means that a biological male can use a woman's bathroom, which many opponents of the measure claim puts both girls and women at risk.
Many Christians and pastors petitioned to vote on the ordinance and received enough signatures to put the measure up for referendum during the 2014 election.
Parker, however, used her influence to prevent putting the HERO ordinance on the 2014 ballot, claiming that many of the signatures obtained by the opposition were not valid. But in June, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the city must either repeal the HERO ordinance or put it on the ballot this year.
As Christian conservatives held national prayer rallies to oppose the measure, Parker tried to subpoena the sermons of five Houston pastors because of their opposition to the measure.
HRC's Religion & Faith Program Assistant Justin Davis says in an HRC blog post that he traveled to Houston last week to "ensure" HERO is upheld.
"Quite often, the perception is that supporting equality for LGBT people is incompatible with being a person of faith, but as we have seen in recent years past, this is no longer the case," wrote Davis, who insists that the ordinance is compatible with people of faith.
"As more and more LGBT people come out, their friends, family, co-workers and communities of faith come to see that discrimination and exclusion of their loved ones on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are incompatible with the ideals of their faith that teach love of neighbor, kindness, and acceptance."
The Christian Examiner reports that one of the five Houston pastors who was subpoenaed by Parker, Ed Young, the pastor of Houston's Second Baptist Church, said during a sermon in September that upholding the ordinance would leave those who oppose it vulnerable to "something that is absolutely godless."
"You say I'm being political. Well, no. I speak out on a very serious moral issue," Young warned during the sermon. "Those of us who believe men should use men's facilities and women should use women's facilities, we will be discriminated against."
Young was likely referring to the fact that businesses and institutions that do not allow transgender individuals to use the bathroom of the sex that they identify with could be liable to pay a $5,000 fine, according to the ordinance.
Last Sunday, a pro-HERO coalition called Houston Unites held an event to try and rally faith-based Houstonians to support the ordinance with an event called "Souls to the Polls." Davis explained that people from only 16 out of Houston's over 1,000 area congregations gathered at their churches and then met up to vote early in favor of Proposition 1.
Although Houston Unites touts its coalition with various faith-based institutions, the organization only lists a Disciples of Christ congregation, a United Church of Christ congregation, one synagogue, one chapel, and one Unitarian Universalist association as coalition partners.
"For many people of faith, voting in support of HERO is an opportunity to vote their conscience in upholding the shared value of treating their neighbor as they would like to be treated," Davis argued. "All Houstonians deserve to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality in the eyes of the law, and HERO ensures that all will be."
In a another attempt to prove that Christians are supporting Proposition 1, Davis cited the experience of HRC regional field organizer Ryan Wilson who rallied at the LGBT-friendly Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, which celebrates a religion not based on creed but on spiritual growth.
The denomination is viewed as a form of liberal Christianity and is known to include many atheists and agnostics. Many conservative Christians are skeptical of liberal theological views, as they feel they do not uphold biblical truths on key social issues like marriage.