Last edited: February 14, 2005

Anti-Discrimination Proposal Doesn’t Protect Illegal Actions

Houston Chronicle, July 3, 2001
801 Texas Avenue, Houston, TX, 77002
Fax: 713-220-6575

By Rachel Graves, Houston Chronicle

A proposed city of Houston anti-discrimination policy attempts to fen d off an expected argument from social conservatives by spelling out that while gays are protected, pedophiles are not.

The policy, which goes before City Council for approval today, would protect city employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, race, religion, age, gender or disability.

It would exempt "pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism or any unlawful conduct" from protection against discrimination.

"They put the language in there to kind of make the Rob Todds of the world happy," activist Ray Hill said. "They’re yielding to an argument that has not yet occurred but will occur."

Todd, a city councilman, recently lost a lawsuit against Mayor Lee Brown over an executive order with similar language to the proposed policy. Todd did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

By saying it does not protect illegal behavior, the policy also fails to protect the sexual activity of homosexual employees. Texas has a rarely enforced sodomy law that bans sexual acts between people of the same sex.

"We’re not going to presume what our gay and lesbian employees do in bed," said Assistant City Attorney Paul Bibler. "It doesn’t say it’s against the law to be homosexual."

The state sodomy law, which bans anal and oral sex between homosexuals but not heterosexuals, has been legally challenged. The 14th Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the law does not violate any constitutional provisions guaranteeing equal rights or privacy.

The sodomy law is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.

Councilwoman Annise Parker, an advocate of the anti-discrimination policy, said it bothers her that it does not protect any employees convicted of sodomy. But she said she would focus her efforts on abolishing the state law rather than passing a city law that contradicts it.

"Private consensual adult sexual behavior should be private," said Parker, an open lesbian.

When council earlier this year considered offering benefits to same-sex partners of city employees, some speakers at council meetings and pickets outside called it a sin and compared it to pedophilia and other felonies. The mayor later dropped plans to adopt same-sex benefits.

Resident Dave Wilson is petitioning for a referendum to prevent the city from ever adopting same-sex benefits. He also opposes including homosexuals in the anti-discrimination policy because, he said Monday, sexual orientation can be changed.

"It’s different from being black," he said. "You can’t change your skin color and be white."

Gays vehemently disagree that their sexual orientation is a choice.

Hill and Parker said it is offensive to gays to have to spell out that protection of sexual orientation is not to be confused with protection of sex acts deemed felonies.

"It reflects some of the more hysterical arguments used against this," Parker said.

But she and Hill said they would rather have the ordinance adopted as is than not at all.

Parker added that the language will help ward off challenges to the law. If opponents try to argue that it does protect pedophiles, for example, it will be clear to anyone who reads it that it does not, she said.

Bibler said the language mirrors that found in the Americans with Disabilities Act and is intended to prevent any attempts to demand jobs despite convictions for pedophilia or other things lawyers could call emotional disorders.

"We don’t want someone to say, ‘My client can’t help themselves, and you have to give them a job even though they engage in these activities,’" he said. "We thought it was an important safeguard."

The Americans with Disabilities Act definition, which applies to physical disabilities, includes homosexuality and bisexuality as well as unrelated things such as compulsive gambling, pyromania and substance abuse in its exemptions.

[Home] [News] [Texas]