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Gay Rights Battle|Heats Up in Texas

PLANO, Texas (CN) - Plano, Texas, invalidated more than 3,800 signatures submitted in opposition to its equal-rights ordinance protecting gay and transgender people, increasing the likelihood of threatened litigation.

Plano officials rejected the signatures Friday, citing incorrect information about the ordinance. They said "not a single page of submitted petitions" was valid.

"The petition contained false information regarding the Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming it regulates bathrooms," Plano spokesman Steve Stoler said.

"The ordinance does not regulate bathrooms. By making this false representation, the Equal Rights petition asked signees to repeal an ordinance that does not exist."

The Plano City Council amended its Equal Rights Policy in December, extending protections for public accommodation, housing, employment and city contracting to people regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information or military/veteran status.

Conservative and church groups quickly objected, with representatives from the Liberty Institute, Houston Pastors' Council and Plano Citizens United announcing plans to gather signatures to repeal the amendment or force a public vote .

State Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas, targeted the ordinance when he filed Senate Bill 343 in January. If approved, the measure would amend the Texas Local Government Code to ban cities from enforcing ordinances that do not conform with state laws on the same subject.

The Texas Election Code also requires petitions to designate what county the signer is registered to vote in when the city in question is in two counties, as Plano is.

"Since Plano is in two counties, that column was mandatory," Stoler said. "However, none of the petition pages included it. The Plano City Charter requires petitions to include a copy of the legislation sought to be repealed or changed. The Equal Rights petition did not include an attachment of the ordinance."

Plano officials say they "made a good faith attempt to avoid dispute and facilitate accuracy" by contacting the opposition groups three weeks before the signatures were to be turned in and outlining "problematic issues with the petition, including those aforementioned."

Plano City Manager Bruce Glasscock said he does not think the "egregious" misrepresentations are just "technicalities."

"This is an integrity and ethics issue," Glasscock said.

The Liberty Institute criticized the rejection, calling the ordinance a "serious threat" to free speech and religious liberty rights under the First Amendment.

"While we are shocked that the city has so little regard for its citizens, we remain committed to advancing religious liberty and challenging this ordinance that clearly violates laws protecting religious freedom," said Liberty Institute general counsel Jeff Mateer.

Plano, pop. 270,000, is north of Dallas.

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