A Texas district court judge has rejected the Mayor of Houston's motion to forgo a jury trial in the "Houston pastors" lawsuit, which seeks to force the city to allow voters decide whether or not to overturn a transgender rights ordinance, which allows self-identified transgenders to use bathrooms designated for the opposite sex.
The lawsuit looks to require Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city to act on a petition, started by conservative Houston-area pastors and activists, calling for a voter referendum to allow the people of Houston to decide whether the ordinance, which passed last May, should stay or go.
Although the city's secretary Anna Russell verified that the petition had exceeded the amount of signatures needed to force the referendum, Parker refused to put the initiative on the ballot during last November's election.
Harris County District Court Judge Robert Schaffer ruled on Tuesday that the lawsuit against Parker and the city will indeed go to jury trial. The judge's ruling comes after Mayor Annise Parker, who is a lesbian, filed three motions earlier this month, all of which were rejected by the court.
The first motion Parker filed asked the judge to throw out the case completely on legal ground. The second motion asked to forgo a jury trial and instead have a bench trial, which would have taken the decision out of the citizens' hands again. And, the third motion asked for an appointed "special master" to review the case in place of judge and jury.
The plaintiffs' attorney, Andy Taylor, told The Christian Post that the mayor's third motion was simply to a ploy to stall the case because it would have taken such an appointed master at least three to six months to get caught up with the case.
"We are very pleased that a jury of ordinary citizens will get to tell Mayor Parker that she cannot block an election to repeal her ill conceived bathroom ordinance." Taylor said. "The mayor's refusal to let the people vote on her bathroom ordinance is totally devoid of any merit whatsoever. That's what she attempted here, at the last second, to prevent a jury from hearing the case."
The lawsuit gained national prominence when Parker subpoenaed sermons of five Houston pastors. Although she later withdrew the subpoenas, it was not before she received national scrutiny for doing so.
Steven Riggle, one of the five pastors who was subpoenaed by Parker and founder of the Houston mega church, Grace Community Church, was not keen of the idea of Parker trying to take away the right to a jury trial.
"In addition to taking away the constitutional voting rights of one million people in Houston, the mayor is trying to take away our constitutional right to a jury trial," Riggle asserted to a gathering of city council members. "As a citizen of Houston for over 30 years and community leader, I feel our city has suffered enough national embarrassment over this issue when what we have asked for all along is to simply let the people decide. It seems as if the city didn't learn anything from the national outrage over the subpoenas issued to pastors in our community."
Even after the national criticism, Taylor said Parker still "doesn't seem to get it."
"She is supposed to represent the people. And yet, she has, in this case, done everything in her power to block and mute the people from any involvement in this ill conceived bathroom ordinance," Taylor asserted. "When you put the two issues side-by-side on the scales of justice, you have got Mayor Parker, who has her own private agenda because of her sexaul orientation, on the one hand, then you have got the right of the people in the fourth largest city in the United States that want to express their sentiments by way of an election."
Plaintiff Joe Woodfill, who is one of four plaintiffs in the case, told The Houston Chronicle that Parker's actions are insinuating that the people of Houston are not capable of making such a decision.
"What [the city] is really saying is that they don't think the people are smart enough to make that decision. Whether it 's been having the voters vote or now allowing the jury to decide," Woodfill said.
Taylor added that there will be a phone conference with the judge on Thursday and he expects that timetable for the trial will be laid out then. Taylor does not expect this trial to start any earlier than Jan. 20.