In Houston, the cosmopolitan big city with an openly gay mayor, the battle over an equal-rights ordinance that barred discrimination against the LGBT community raged for months before the City Council approved it in May. In Plano, the quintessential Texas suburb and home base of the Liberty Institute, the religious-right vanguard, it lasted about two hours.
The Plano City Council passed its Equal Right Policy by a 5-3 vote on Monday evening, outlawing discrimination in employment, housing and in "places of public accommodation" (e.g. businesses) on the basis of "sexual orientation and gender identity." The ordinance extends those same protections to veterans for good measure.
By now, all the major cities in Texas -- Dallas, Fort Worth, El Paso, Austin, San Antonio, Houston -- have some version of a non-discrimination ordinance. But Plano is different. While Frisco has supplanted Plano in the public imagination as North Texas' most irritatingly shiny and self-satisfied outpost, Plano remains a byword for the deep-crimson conservatism of the Texas suburb. Nevertheless, it's LGBT ordinance zipped through city government with lightning speed, passing only three days after the item was posted on the City Council agenda. Plano is also different because nowhere else in Texas has the religious right been so satisfyingly brushed aside.
On Monday afternoon, the Liberty Institute warned in a last-minute press release that the ongoing assault on religious liberty that the inability to discriminate against gay people represents was encroaching on its home territory. Despite the late notice, they marshaled a nicely sized roster of indignant Christian conservatives to speak against the ordinance and, in no uncertain terms, promised a lawsuit.
But before the vote, Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere delivered an immensely satisfying rebuttal that can best be described as badass. He ticked off an incomplete history of injustices inflicted upon minority groups in the United States: the constitutional definition of slaves, i.e. African Americans, as 3/5 of a person; women being deprived of the franchise; deed covenants barring the sale of homes to Jews and others; signs in New York windows saying "Irish need not apply."
In each case, he said, attempts to redress those wrongs were greeted with objections similar to the ones that are being offered in opposition to the equal-rights ordinance, claims that extending rights to minority groups somehow infringed upon the rights of the majority.
LaRosiliere dismissed those concerns and answered the question he's been fielding most frequently: Why now?
"Frankly, the question is not 'why now?' the question is 'what took us so long?'"
The council's passage of the ordinance elicited murmurs of protest from the Liberty Institute allies in the audience. "See you in November," one called out as he left the council chambers, presumably a hint that voters would punish the yes votes at election time.
LaRosiliere cupped a hand to his lips and offered a remedial lesson in municipal elections. "It's May by the way. It's not November."