Abbott Continues Attack on San Antonio Ordinance

Attorney General Greg Abbott announces his bid for Texas governor at a San Antonio rally on July 14, 2013.
Attorney General Greg Abbott announces his bid for Texas governor at a San Antonio rally on July 14, 2013.

A day after the San Antonio City Council adopted a far-reaching anti-discrimination ordinance, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott warned it would open up the city to a lawsuit but declined to say if the state would initiate one.

Abbott, speaking to reporters Friday at the Texas Capitol, attacked the new measure as unconstitutional. Adopted on an 8-3 vote Thursday, the ordinance would add lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to the city's nondiscrimination code.

Abbott said the language in the ordinance preventing appointees and members of city boards and commissions from engaging in bias “by word or deed” violates provisions protecting freedom of speech and religion in both the Texas and U.S. constitutions. He said officials could be removed from office, for example, if they spoke out in favor of upholding Texas constitutional provisions barring same-sex marriage. 

“And so if someone says we’re going to stand on the law, they would be guilty of violating that San Antonio ordinance. That’s just nonsensical and another reason why I think the San Antonio ordinance would be subject to a legal challenge,’’ Abbott said.

Abbott, the leading GOP contender for governor in 2014, said he had not yet researched the issue of whether the state government had standing to sue the city, telling reporters he “can’t predict right now” if he, as the state’s lawyer, would file one. He also said he did not know if other cities had similar language in their non-discrimination ordinances.

The ordinance would prevent people who have demonstrated bias against lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals from serving in city positions and prohibit the city from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also prevent local business owners from discriminating against them.

The ordinance touched off a heated debate and sparked protests at San Antonio City Hall, drawing scorn from numerous Republican officeholders and candidates for statewide office, including Abbott, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, among others.

The attention to the ordinance grew after the San Antonio Express-News published a secret recording of San Antonio City Councilwoman Elisa Chan calling homosexuality "disgusting" and saying she did not believe that people were born gay. 

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro, a rising star in the beleaguered Texas Democratic Party, supported the ordinance, saying it was long overdue. Most of the other major Texas cities already have anti-discrimination ordinances that include gay and transgender people.

Castro’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Abbott’s remarks.

Abbott was asked about the ordinance outside a meeting on the state’s response to human trafficking. Abbott unveiled a new manual aimed at helping prosecutors and first responders better fight human trafficking, defined as the “recruitment, harboring, transporting, or procurement of a person for labor or services for the purpose of involuntary servitude, slavery, or forced commercial sex.”

While speaking to reporters, Abbott was also asked about the state’s controversial plan to convert certain heavily damaged roads in South Texas to gravel as a way to save dwindling transportation dollars. He declined to say whether he supported the proposal, which has drawn heated criticism from officeholders and residents in South Texas, where a historic oil boom has torn up dozens of miles of paved roads.

“We have the issue of gravel roads in South Texas, we have the issue about congestion in other parts of the state, and what we need to do in the budgetary process is put roads water and education first, address those issues and fund those issues first, as priorities and then live within the rest of the budget along the lines of a tight budget,” Abbott said.

Abbott would not say if he thought the Legislature should have put more money into transportation infrastructure so that it would have enough money to re-pave the damaged roads in South Texas.

“I can’t really look back and predict what could or could not have been done,” he said. “What I can do is look forward and know that as we prioritize roads we’ll be solving the issues about some counties having to go to gravel roads.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.