San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is running hard to become Hillary Rodham Clinton’s vice presidential running mate. Last glimpsed delivering the keynote address to the 2012 Democratic National Convention, the 38-year-old mayor is trying to win the spurs of higher office by placing the gay-rights agenda squarely before the San Antonio City Council. Just after Labor Day, its 10 members will vote on a tough new “non-discrimination ordinance.”
Major provisions of the ordinance outlaw discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, veteran status, age or disability” (excluding, of course, the unborn). Gender identities are redefined to protect “appearance, expression or behavior regardless of an individual’s assigned sex at birth.” (Bradley “Chelsea” Manning would feel right at home). Appointed officials and members of city commissions can be dismissed for malfeasance if they offend the new protected classes by “discrimination or bias, by word or deed.” Best of all: The city’s new equal-employment division will become the new thought police, enforcing the whole she-bang (is that term still legal?)
Left unclear was which problem such a draconian measure would solve. Long before the current controversy, the homosexual-rights blog Advocate.com stated that San Antonio already had the “highest percentage of gay and lesbian parents in the U.S.” If discrimination actually existed in San Antonio, then where was it? Mr. Castro argues that the new law would merely align the city with the legal regimes of other American municipalities.
Because the Bible contains some tough teachings about sexual transgression, religious leaders were quick to see the ordinance as a divisive and even deliberately anti-religious measure. Once the ordinance is in place, could an avowed Christian even serve on the City Council? Would the “Christian” designation henceforth be limited only to those churches ordaining homosexual ministers? Who knew?
The city’s predominantly white mega-congregations, with the most to lose, remained quiet as church mice. However, the Rev. Charles Flowers, pastor of a large black congregation, insists that the homosexual-rights agenda is not the new civil rights movement. “I am unwilling to live in a place where speaking out boldly on biblical teachings is threatened by political correctness.” Allan Parker, head of an association of concerned area pastors, many of them Hispanic, sees this as the latest front in the culture wars against religion. “The ordinance will have a chilling effect on churches [which] may curtail their preaching simply to avoid lawsuits or even a citation for a Class-C misdemeanor.”
But the intimidation may be working. Elisa Chan is a Taiwanese immigrant and the first Asian-American elected to the San Antonio City Council, last time with 80 percent of the vote. Once considered a potential candidate for mayor, in May she committed the unpardonable sin of engaging her staff in a candid conversation about an early draft of the nondiscrimination ordinance. She opined that it was politically and culturally troubling — as a staffer secretly recorded every word. When the controversy was at its height, he leaked the tape to the local press corps, designated cheerleaders for Mr. Castro’s aspirations for higher office.
When the slight, bespectacled Ms. Chan defended herself recently at a City Hall news conference, a media lynching ensued. She quietly pleaded her own First Amendment rights of confidentiality and privacy. No sooner had she read her statement than the fusillade began, with one reporter asking, “Elisa, are homosexuals disgusting?” “Will you resign?” Mr. Castro later gushed that it took “a good bit of courage for that young man to do what he did so I wish him the best.” The unasked question: Had the mayor or his cronies been involved in planning the media attack?
The Chan lynching may have been just another skirmish in “Battleground Texas,” the well-heeled Democratic campaign to turn Texas from red to blue. Its strategic objective: building a permanent Democratic edge in presidential elections. However, skirmishes and battlegrounds can be unpredictable for Democrats and even for Texas Republicans, famous for exchanging greetings by asking, “What country club do y’all belong to?” Will Democratic overreach on issues like the nondiscrimination ordinance or the recent political fistfight over abortion spawn grass-roots opposition? Can stodgy Republican local parties close the deal with new voters finally in a mood to listen?
The high ground in Texas and maybe elsewhere is not gay versus straight or even sin versus grace. Instead, it involves a fundamental constitutional question: Have our basic civil liberties been eclipsed by social experiments with newer alternatives? As those controversies simmered, a local art museum wrapped up a traveling Norman Rockwell exhibit. Its centerpiece: the Four Freedoms, including Rockwell’s classic depictions of freedom of religion and speech. The departure is timely since San Antonio apparently has no use for these two.
Col. Ken Allard, retired from the Army and residing in San Antonio, is a military analyst and author on national security issues.