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Fight Against Gays|Continues in Texas

DALLAS (CN) - In response to Plano, Texas' approving an ordinance that prohibits discrimination against homosexuals and transgendered people, a Dallas lawmaker has filed a bill that would ban cities from enforcing such laws.

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, filed Senate Bill 343 on Friday. It would amend the Texas Local Government Code to prohibit cities from enforcing ordinances that are not "in conformity" with state laws on the same subject.

"Unless expressly authorized by state statute, a local government shall not implement an ordinance, rule or regulation that conflicts with or is more stringent than a state statute or rule regardless of when the state statute or rule takes effect," the bill states .

Huffines could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

The sweeping implications of the broadly worded bill would affect a wide range of non-LGBT-related city ordinances.

The bill comes one month after Plano updated its nondiscrimination policy to protect people no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Similar changes to nondiscrimination ordinances have been made in Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, Houston and San Antonio.

Many Plano residents denounced the changes to the city's Equal Rights Policy, which also protects public accommodation, housing, employment and city contracting regardless of a person's race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, genetic information or military or veteran status.

In comments immediately before the council passed the measure on Dec. 8, several dozen residents told the council to not support it.

Jeff Matter, general counsel for the Liberty Institute, threatened to sue the city if it was passed. He said the ministries and faith-based companies his group represents were not consulted or given the chance to rebut the city's positions.

Matter said the amendment "goes way beyond federal and state law" and that it violates the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, which allows employers religious exemptions against funding contraception for employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

"If passed, we will see people of faith in our own backyard subjected to criminalization," he said. "Suffice it to say, if you pass it, we will sue you. We've done so five other times, we've won each one and we'll win again."

Members of the Liberty Institute, the Houston Pastors' Council and Plano Citizens United said on Jan. 8 that they would conduct a signature drive to force the City Council to consider repealing the law .

Pastor Mike Buster, of Prestonwood Baptist Church, criticized the amendment, claiming the city is "trying to silence people of faith in the workplace."

Pastor Rafael Cruz, father of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the ordinance "an attack on Judeo-Christian beliefs."

"It is time people of faith become involved in the political arena," Cruz said.

Pastors' Council leader David Welch said the ordinance was not needed because "there was no discrimination in Plano."

The opposition group submitted the collected signatures a week later and the city secretary has "started the process" of verifying the signatures, according to Plano spokesman Steve Stoler.

"The signees must be Plano residents and registered voters," Stoler said on Jan. 20. "The validation process should be completed by the end of the month. If there are a minimum of 3,822 valid signatures, the issue will be placed on the City Council agenda. Council members will have the option to repeal the ordinance or call for a public vote, which would be placed on the ballot for the May City election."

Stoler said the ordinance allows for religious organizations to apply for exemptions, and that it is based on federal law.

"We are confident once voters know the facts by reading the ordinance, they will see it is fair and ensures religious freedom, while providing equality for all groups, not just a few," Stoler said on Jan. 7. "[It] does not criminalize religious beliefs; it ensures religious freedom."

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