On a vote of 8-3, with Carlton Soules, Elisa Chan, and Ivy Taylor voting no, San Antonio City Council this afternoon approved that hotly debated Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Anti Discrimination Ordinance, 1200 WOAI news reports.
"Whether you are Christian or Jew, whether you are straight or gay, San Antonio belongs to you too," Mayor Julian Castro said.
Council first defeated a measure by Elisa Chan to table the proposal for more debate.
One of the most emotional moments was when east side Councilwoman Ivy Tayler announced her plans to vote against it.
"That does not mean that people of faith choose to discriminate, or that we hate, or we want LGBT people to be turned away at restaurants and public places."
The public debate was among the most emotional in the city in decades. Hundreds of people testified ina public eharing last night that lasted until 1AM, and dozens more took to the microphone today to add their comments.
Four major Texas cities already have laws on the books which are nearly identical to the one just approved in San Antonio, according to Paul Guequierre, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. He says 180 cities nationwide have similar laws on the books.
Today's vote is also a major victory for gay and lesbian activists, who have had many setbacks in the Lone Star State. The Texas Legislature has repeatedly refused to approve similar protections based on sexual orientation on a statewide level, and opposition among the state's Republican office holders for gay marriage or gay civil unions remains strong.
Michael Bernard, the San Antonio City Attorney, stressed that the law has 'nothing to do with bathrooms.'
"This does not attempt to legalize same sex marriage," Bernard said. "It does not regulate anybody's speech or action."
But Gerald Flowers, a prominent San Antonio pastor, called the ordinance 'offensive' and said it 'puts Christians in the position of being permanent second class citizens.' He said the two month long public battle over the proposal has been 'divisive.'
"This thing is so central to the heart of so many people in this city that we cannot let it rest," Flowers said. "This doesn't end today."
At least one group, the Liberty Institute, has already vowed to file a federal lawsuit blocking the measure.
"The ordinance is an unconstitutional regulation of free speech in violation of the U.S. Constitution," Kelly Shackelford, the Institute’s President, told 1200 WOAI news.
The debate over the measure was one of the most emotional ever seen in this south Texas city. Two public hearings attracted hundreds of participants, and lasted until well after midnight, with lines of speakers snaking down the street. Speakers invoked the defenders of the Alamo, the fight for African American civil rights in the 1950s, and the Christero War, when Catholic priests were persecuted by the Mexican revolutionary government in the 1920s. Opponents called homosexuality a 'filthy lifestyle,' and supporters said opponents are 'hateful, mean spirited, and bigoted.'
The secretly recorded conversation of one City Council member in which she expressed opposition to the gay lifestyle was released to the media, ratcheting up the emotional debate even more. An openly gay ex Marine who was wounded in the Iraq war was booed by residents of a city that calls itself 'Military City USA,' after he spoke out in support of the proposal. Even the usually non-political San Antonio Spurs NBA team released a statement supporting the proposal.
Mark Longoria, a citizen who came out to speak against the proposal, said it isn't a matter of equality.
"You criminalize us if we speak our faith," he said. "We are Christian all the time. You are forcing me to push an agenda and agree with an agenda that goes against my beliefs."
Castro, who delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, is seen by some Democrats as a potential running mate on a 2016 ticket headed by Hillary Clinton, according to Washington DC reports.