SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s leaders on Thursday approved anti-bias protections for gay and transgender residents, despite the disapproval of top Texas Republicans and religious conservatives.
The 8-3 City Council vote in favor of the ordinance was a victory for gay rights advocates and for Democratic Mayor Julian Castro, a top surrogate of President Barack Obama.
Castro has called the ordinance overdue in the nation’s seventh-largest city, where there is a stronger current of traditionalism and conservatism than other major Texas cities that already have similar gay rights protections.
San Antonio joins nearly 180 other U.S. cities that have non-discrimination ordinances that prohibit bias based on sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“This ordinance is about saying there are no second-class citizens in San Antonio,” Castro said.
Supporters in red shirts and opponents in blue sat on opposite sides of the ornate council chamber Thursday. Church leaders vowed petitions to recall council members, and the shouts of protesters outside City Hall often carried through the stone walls of the century-old building.
The local measure roiled conservatives nationwide and was opposed by big-name Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. Abbott, a Republican who is seeking the governor’s office, predicted a lawsuit over religious freedoms, though he has not said the state will challenge the ordinance.
San Antonio City Attorney Michael Bernard told the council the ordinance would apply to most city contracts and contractors. It prohibits council members from discriminating in their official capacity and forbids workers in public accommodation jobs, such as at restaurants or hotels, from refusing to serve customers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The measure passed by the council amends protections already in place for discrimination based on race or gender.
Opponents say the ordinance — which takes effect immediately — would stifle religious expression and does not have the support of most of the city’s residents.