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Houston voters on Tuesday decided whether to extend nondiscrimination protections to its gay and transgender residents in a referendum being watched nationally. (AP Oct. 21 File Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)AUSTIN –Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton clashed on Twitter over whether Houston voters on Tuesday should reject or uphold a city ordinance that bans discrimination in jobs, housing and public accommodations that is based on, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The so-called Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, or HERO, has attracted national attention and a dollar-fueled TV ad blitz.

— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX)

Social conservatives such as Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins call it the “bathroom ordinance.” They say transgender people could cause problems — especially if someone born a man who has a sex change uses the women’s restroom.

But it’s about more than potty security, Perkins blogged. He called it a “radical measure, which punishes people who refuse to celebrate transgenderism and homosexuality with massive fines.” Perkins called the ordinance part of a “nationwide march to silence religious liberty in America.”

Clinton, her opponent Bernie Sanders and Houston Mayor Annise Parker have endorsed retention of HERO, which has been the subject of a protracted legal and political battle. They say it simply would bring long-overdue, equal treatment to gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Supporters have deplored opponents’ many TV commercials about bathrooms as attempts to scare Houstonians and exploit many people’s lack of familiarity with transgender people and their struggles.

Weighing in against the ordinance was former Houston Astro and Texas Ranger slugger Lance Berkman. Once known as “The Big Puma, ” he said he’s now speaking as the concerned father of four daughters. Berkman taped a TV ad urging rejection of the ordinance, and social conservative activist Jonathan Saenz of Texas Values tweeted about it:

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, left, greets a supporter at a fund raiser for the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance in Houston last month. (AP File Photo/Pat Sullivan)— Jonathan Saenz (@jonathansaenzTX)

On the opposing side, Oscar-winning actress Sally Field appeared with supporters of the ordinance at a press conference in Houston late last week. Here’s a photo shared on Twitter by gay rights activist Chuck Smith of Equality Texas, who regularly does battle with Saenz’ group at the Texas Capitol:

Sally Field: "A vote for #HERO is a vote to treat everyone fairly and equally under the law." #YesOnProp1

— Houston Unites (@Houston_Unites)

Big corporations with a presence in Houston, such as Apple, Hewlett Packard, General Electric and Dow Chemical have urged support for the ordinance. They warn that a “no” vote would take down protections for racial and religious minorities as well as for LGBT residents. Also, Houston would be the nation’s largest city without an anti-discrimination ordinance protecting all of those subcategories of the population.

In a statement, Apple said voting “yes” would send “a clear message that Houston is focused on a future of inclusion, diversity and continued prosperity.”

As my colleague Bobby Blanchard noted here Monday, participation in early voting in Harris County topped all other urban counties. Experts said as many as 250, 000 Houston residents might cast ballots in an election that includes not just the culture war battle but a hotly contested mayor’s race. In Houston’s last open-seat mayor’s race six years ago, only about 178, 000 people voted.

Political scientists don’t know whether the choice of starkly different mayoral candidates — different in race and ideology — or the hubbub about gay rights and bathrooms drove the bigger turnout in Houston. You can read about the experts clashing in this story by Houston Chronicle reporters Rebecca Elliott and Mike Morris.

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