Packed Council Chamber For Late Night Non-Discrimination Ordinance Discussion
The San Antonio City Council dissected the city’s proposed non-discrimination ordinance during a marathon B session Wednesday before turning the microphone over to nearly 500 people who signed up to speak during the citizens to be heard portion of the meeting.
City Attorney Michael Bernard defined the ordinance for the council during a brief presentation. Mayor Julián Castro then went back over many of the definitions and used examples to spell out for the audience what the proposal would do if passed.
Castro used an example of a pastor who preaches on Sunday morning against homosexuality:
"Can they still serve on the zoning commission or the library board?" he asked Bernard.
"Absolutely," replied Bernard.
The language of the final draft of the non-discrimination ordinances removes language from the 1990s that specified a person who demonstrated prior discriminatory acts cannot serve in an official city capacity.
Remaining as part of the ordinance is that any person appointed and acting in an official capacity shall not engage in discrimination while serving in their official capacity.
"Because what we're trying to do is narrow this to say that when you're acting with the power of the city in your official capacity -- mind you, you can believe whatever you want," said Castro. "In fact, in your private life or whatever you do that's in your non-city capacity, you can do whatever you want. But what we're trying to get at here is that in your official capacity as a member of the zoning commission that you cannot discriminate."
The debate took a turn toward confusing when the restroom portion of the ordinance came up. Bernard said legally, Texas defines sex of a person by birth. Men, therefore, use the men’s room an women use the women’s room.
District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan expressed her own lack of knowledge in the area. She became concerned about an example that a transgender woman could use the restroom with her 13 year old daughter under the ordinance.
Bernard said beyond the legal answer, there is a practical one.
"People are going to go to the restroom the same place and the same way two weeks from now they did two weeks ago," he said. "Nobody checks the plumbing, nobody does a chromosome count. Things will get back to normal."
Chan, who tried to confuse the conversation, received standing ovations from the audience and loud applause throughout the debate.
"I continue to have great concerns about this ordinance because in my personal opinion, it has the unintentional consequences of really stifling freedom of speech," she said.
District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules does not think the council should vote on the ordinance next week after only one public hearing.
He is worried Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott will challenge the ordinance and Soules isn’t sure San Antonio would be able to defend the law in court.
The three people running for attorney general in 2014 have also all come out against the ordinance.
"Is the legal ground we're standing on firm? Or is it murky?" Soules asked Bernard.
"It is not murky. It is firm," Bernard replied.
"So you would say right now that you're confident the statement from the attorney general of the state of Texas is incorrect?" Soules responded.
"I am confident that the law is valid," said Bernard.
Hours after the B session, people had their chance to voice their support or opposition.
Marty Gaines, a pastor, told the council he believes the ordinance puts him between a rock and a hard place:
"And so I don't like the way we've been positioned as a city to be divisive and make it me against you and if I don’t agree, then suddenly I’m in favor of discrimination," Gaines said. "I am not in favor of discrimination."
Nancy Russell is a retired Army Lt. Col. and a lesbian who said she deserves to be treated equally.
"I served my country for 20 years to protect the equal rights of all Americans -- rights I still don't have myself because of the blatant ignorance of a small percentage of the American public," Russell said.
Castro, along with council members Diego Bernal, Rey Saldana, Ray Lopez, Cris Medina, Ron Nirenberg and Shirley Gonzalez support the ordinance. Ivy Taylor and Rebecca Viagran have doubts about the ordinance, while Soules and Chan do not support the proposal in its current form.
Six votes are needed to pass the non-discrimination ordinance.