In San Antonio, where the mayor is rising Democratic star Julian Castro, a broad new anti-discrimination ordinance under consideration may catch opponents of same-sex marriage in its net, in what opponents consider a disturbing infringement on liberty of conscience.
The ordinance would prohibit bias toward people on account of sexual orientation. Opponents are concerned that opposition to same-sex marriage or other viewpoints about homosexuality would be considered bias.
“If you, for instance, oppose same-sex marriage, that’s going to be interpreted as opposing someone based on sexual orientation,” explains Jeff Mateer, general counsel for the Liberty Institute, an organization that focuses on religious liberty.
“So if the church that you attend teaches that homosexuality is a sin,” he adds, “and you believe in that in word or deed, and you speak out against that, you’re going to be disqualified from serving or contracting with the city of San Antonio.”
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council, is similarly concerned. “Is expressing opposition to same-sex marriage a form of bias based on sexual orientation? Some people would argue that it is,” he says, despite the fact that “the Texas constitution forbids same-sex marriage.”
If the ordinance passes, the city cannot contract with any business whose owner is deemed biased. Nor can city-council members or appointed public officials speak in their official capacity in a way that suggests bias, according to the Liberty Institute.
While the ordinance’s author, Councilman Diego Bernal, has revised the language in response to concerns about religious freedom, conservative groups say the revisions are not enough. Bernal did not respond to a request for comment.
“The last draft that we saw, which was a couple days ago, still contains the language about contracting,” Mateer remarks. And that’s not the only language he finds worrisome: “What it now says is you can’t have acted in word or deed in your official capacity.”
“It’s basically saying it’s okay to hold that belief outside,” he adds, “but if you are a city-council member, you can wear your hat at church, and at church, you can be for traditional marriage, but once you step into the realm of governing, you’re no longer to hold that belief.”
Sprigg, who says the last draft he saw was from last week, thinks the ordinance could negatively affect the businesses of those who don’t support same-sex marriage.
“It would basically bar Christian-owned businesses or any business that chooses not to include sexual orientation and gender identity in their own equal-opportunity policies,” he says, “from ever entering into a contract with the city of San Antonio.”
“It uses this coercion against private companies through the contracting process of the city,” Sprigg explains.
However, one notable critic of the ordinance no longer opposes it. Pastor John Hagee, who heads a megachurch in San Antonio, talked to media outlets earlier this month about his opposition to the ordinance. But this Sunday, he announced that, owing to the revised language, he would no longer work against the ordinance, although he didn’t go so far as to endorse it. “All of the previous language that infringed upon the freedom of speech, the freedom of exercise of religion, and the ability for people of faith to serve on city council has been expunged,” Hagee told churchgoers.
Looking at the broader picture, Sprigg argues it’s inappropriate for government to treat “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” as worthy of the same protections given to “race” and “gender.”
“Most civil-rights legislation,” Sprigg explains, “protects against discrimination based on characteristics that are inborn; involuntary, meaning you can’t choose them; immutable, meaning you can’t change them; innocuous, meaning they don’t harm anything or anyone; and/or in the Constitution. All five of those would apply to something like race or sex.”
“None of them,” he argues, “would apply to the choice to engage in homosexual conduct or the choice to present oneself as the opposite of one’s biological sex.”