Conservatives cheered Tuesday after Houston voters overwhelmingly rejected a transgender-rights ordinance, while supporters of the so-called “bathroom bill” vowed to keep fighting.
Proposition 1, or the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, was losing by a margin of 61 to 39 percent with 65 percent of precincts reporting, a stunning defeat for Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the national gay-rights movement, which had poured millions into the race.
But despite that heavy spending advantage, Houston Unites, which supported the ordinance, struggled to combat the Campaign for Houston’s television and radio ads warning that the ordinance would allow men, including sex predators, into women’s public restrooms, showers and locker rooms.
In an email to supporters, Houston Unites campaign manager Richard Carlbom called the defeat a “temporary setback.”
“Mark my words: It’s only a matter of time before all Houstonians have equal rights,” Mr. Carlbom said. “Today’s vote was driven by a fringe group filled with fear of and animus towards LGBT people. We will continue to push forward and educate voters to undo the damage of the ugliest of smear campaigns.”
The Houston Unites campaign had insisted that the measure would not allow men into women’s restrooms because biological males who identify as women are actually women.
That argument failed to pass muster with many Houston voters.
Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who had opposed Proposition 1, said “this involved a lot more than bathrooms.”
“Houston has become a rallying cry for Americans tired of seeing their freedoms trampled in a politically correct stampede to redefine marriage and sexuality,” said Mr. Perkins in a statement. “Houstonians sent a message heard across the country: They will not allow the government to flush away their money, and more importantly, their values and religious liberties.”
He commended Houston voters for “courageously standing up to political intimidation to defend their freedom to believe and the freedom to live according to those beliefs.”
The vote capped an 18-month legal and political battle between Ms. Parker and foes of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which was approved last year by the city council but wound up on the ballot after a protracted legal fight involving the validity of petition signatures.
Proposition 1 repeals the ordinance, which grants protected class status based on 15 characteristics, including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, veterans’ status and pregnancy status, as well as gender identity.
Under the ordinance, businesses that don’t let transgender people use facilities that correspond with their gender identity, rather than their biological sex, would have faced fines of up to $5,000.
Supporters ran a rash of television ads trying to move the discussion away from bathrooms by featuring veterans, local pastors and parents who said the measure was needed to combat discrimination.
The campaign also benefited from the support of a Houston business coalition and top national companies, including Apple and Hewlett Packard.
But the Campaign for Houston, backed by local pastors, scored early on with an ad featuring former Houston Astros all-star Lance Berkman, who said that Proposition 1 “would allow troubled men who claim to be women to enter women’s bathrooms, showers and locker rooms.”
“It’s better to prevent this danger by closing women’s restrooms to men, rather than waiting for a crime to happen,” he said.
The campaign followed up with a chilling ad showing a man cornering a little girl in a bathroom stall, despite objections from Ms. Parker and others who accused foes of Proposition 1 of engaging in “scare tactics.”
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