by Mary Tuma
The organization that employed this man wants to tell you the truth about San Antonio's non-discrimination ordinance. Photo from Media Matters for America.
The proposed measure protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender residents from discrimination in hiring and firing, public accommodations, fair housing, city employment, contracts and board appointments by adding sexual orientation and gender identity (and veteran status) to the city code.
Expected for a vote this month, the rule would place San Antonio on equal footing with other major metro cities in the state like Houston, Dallas and Austin. Ahead of the vote, religious leaders—aided by a national anti-LGBT rights legal team—have begun strategizing to kill the ordinance they see as an infringement on religious freedom and a threat to Christian businesses, the Current recently reported.
The controversial measure is now generating attention from right-wing news outlets and hosts, who don’t seem to have all the facts. Research by watchdog group Media Matters for America takes the erroneous claims to task with a step-by-step break down that separates myth from reality.
For instance, an article on the Fox News Radio Web site by Todd Starnes attacks the ordinance for protecting LGBT workers while supposedly not providing religious protections for faith leaders. And on July 31, Fox News guest host Shannon Bream said on-air, “[the] rule could block the hiring of anyone who speaks out against homosexuality because of their moral or religious beliefs, and that includes Christian business owners.”
However, as MMFA notes, the ordinance does in fact, provide exemptions for religious businesses and institutions as well as for public accommodations and housing discrimination provisions. Citing section 2-550 (b) of the ordinance:
“A religious corporation, association, society or educational institution or an educational organization operated, supervised or controlled in whole or in substantial part by a religious corporation, association or society does not violate the non-discrimination policy by limiting employment or giving a preference in employment to members of the same religion.”
Both Fox News and conservative newspaper The Washington Times—which has published more than one piece on the subject—write the ordinance prohibits anyone who opposes homosexuality from serving in public office or obtaining city contracts. Alleging a violation of free speech rights, they refer to the following:
“No person shall be appointed to a position if the city council finds that such person has, prior to such proposed appointment, engaged in discrimination or demonstrated a bias, by word or deed, against any person, group or organization on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability,” the ordinance reads.
But the ordinance doesn’t say that—at least not anymore. The measure’s architect, District 1 Councilmember Diego Bernal, told the Current that clause has been in the municipal books for decades. The long-standing law is simply meant to give city council vetting power when considering new hires and that several other factors go into that decision-making. Regardless, it was recently removed from the ordinance's draft. Bernal says the omission won’t weaken its overall effect but was taken out to appease concerns.