The mayor of Houston announced Wednesday that the city will withdraw subpoenas of sermons from five pastors who publicly opposed an ordinance banning discrimination against gay and transgender residents, The Houston Chronicle reports.
"I didn't do this to satisfy them," Mayor Annise Parker said in reference to critics of the subpoenas. "I did it because it was not serving Houston."
Houston's City Council passed in May the equal rights ordinance, which consolidates city bans on discrimination based on sex, race, age, religion and other categories and increases protections for gay and transgender residents.
The controversy has touched a nerve among religious conservatives around the country, many of them already anxious about the rapid spread of gay rights and what it might mean for faith groups that object. Religious groups, including some that support civil rights protections for gays, have protested the subpoenas as a violation of religious freedom.
Parker, who is gay, and other supporters said the measure is about offering protections at the local level against all forms of discrimination in housing, employment and services provided by private businesses such as hotels and restaurants.
"It is extremely important to me to protect our Equal Rights Ordinance from repeal, and it is extremely important to me to make sure that every Houstonian knows that their lives are valid and protected and acknowledged," Parker said. "We are going to continue to vigorously defend our ordinance against repeal efforts."
Religious institutions are exempt, but city attorneys recently subpoenaed the pastors, seeking all speeches, presentations or sermons related to the repeal petition.
Christian activists had sued after city officials ruled they didn't collect enough signatures to get the question on the ballot. The city secretary initially counted enough signatures, but then city attorney David Feldman ruled that more than half of the pages of the petition were invalid.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.