The San Antonio City Council voted 8-3 on Thursday to add protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity to an existing city ordinance that bans discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and city contracting.
The vote came after more than 700 people testified for and against the proposed expansion of the ordinance in a marathon hearing that lasted past midnight on Wednesday and continued Thursday morning before the vote.
Approval of the ordinance in the nation’s seventh largest city also followed a heated campaign by the state’s conservative Republican leaders and religious-right activists to oppose the bill. Much of the opposition targeted the bill’s provision to protect transgender people from discrimination.
Among the bill’s strongest supporters was San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, a Democrat, who told the City Council minutes before the vote, “This is a city that belongs to everyone.”
Among the most vocal opponents of the bill was Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is a Republican candidate for governor. Abbott argued that the expanded ordinance would trigger a flurry of lawsuits by people of faith and others who oppose homosexuality on religious grounds. He predicted opponents would challenge in the courts the bill’s provision preventing them from refusing to hire or refusing to sell goods such as wedding cakes to LGBT people.
Supporters of the measure noted that the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and El Paso passed similar legislation years earlier banning discrimination against gays and transgender people and predictions of problems such as multiple lawsuits never materialized.
“The right wing extremists really threw everything at this and really put on a major offensive and they lost,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington.
“And that is a big deal,” Keisling said. “Our side stood up. Our allies were just rock solid and we won.”
Chad Griffin, president of the D.C. based Human Rights Campaign, which was part of a coalition of LGBT and mainline civil rights groups pushing for the ordinance, said the City Council’s action reflects what he believes is the support by a majority of San Antonio residents for equality under the law.
“Today’s vote is a victory, but the attacks we saw from our opposition in the run-up to this – particularly the trans phobic messaging – remind us of the ruthless tactics they use to promote discrimination against LGBT people,” Griffin said.