Texas Supreme Court Blocks Houston's LGBT Antidiscrimination Law

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

July 29, 2015

The Texas Supreme Court has ordered the Houston City Council to either repeal the city's 2014 equal rights ordinance or place it on this November's ballot. The ordinance prohibited discrimination based on a number of factors, most notably for sexual orientation and gender identity.

Houston had no municipal nondiscrimination protections for any class prior to this civil rights legislation. In addition to sexual orientation and gender identity, the city ordinance prohibited discrimination based on:

  • Sex;
  • Race, color, ethnicity and national origin;
  • Age;
  • Disability;
  • Military status;
  • Religion (with an exemption for religious institutions);
  • Genetic information;
  • Pregnancy; and
  • Familial and marital status.

But it was the inclusion of the sexual orientation and gender identity protections that drew the ire of opponents. That led to this court challenge seeking to repeal the Houston ordinance.

In its July 24 ruling, the Texas Supreme Court agreed with the challengers that the Houston City Secretary should have certified their 2014 petition to reconsider the ordinance or submit it to a popular vote. The Court wrote, "The legislative power of the people is not being honored."

The Court concluded that if the City Council does not repeal the ordinance by August 24, then it must order that the ordinance be put to a popular vote during the November 2015 election.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker is the first openly gay mayor of a major US city and strongly supported the ordinance. Sexual orientation and gender identity are not yet protected under federal law.

However, the issue is gaining increased attention since the Supreme Court's historic June decision to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges. That ruling did not address job protections for LGBT employees. In all, 22 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws protecting LGBT individuals that apply to private employers.