HOUSTON (AP) — Houston leaders were expected to vote Wednesday on a nondiscrimination measure that has become a flashpoint for protesters as supporters of the law seek to extend protections for gay and transgender residents.

City council chambers as well as an overflow room were packed as council members listened to comments about the ordinance.

More than 200 people sought to speak about the ordinance on Wednesday. Of the first 70 speakers, only three spoke against the proposed measure, which would consolidate city bans on discrimination based on sex, race, age and religion and increase protections for gay and transgender residents.

Most who spoke in favor of the ordinance highlighted the protections it would offer to members of the gay, lesbian and transgender community.

"If Houston wants to be considered a community that values all of its citizens, this ordinance should be passed today," said Robert Brewer, a Houston attorney who identified himself as gay.

Supporters of the ordinance, including Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, say the measure is about offering protections at the local level against all forms of discrimination in the areas of housing, city employment and services provided by private businesses like hotels and restaurants.

But the debate has focused largely on provisions regarding rights for gay and transgender citizens.

Those who have protested the ordinance, including a group of local pastors, say the measure is unconstitutional and would infringe on their religious liberty to speak out against what they called the gay, lesbian and transgender lifestyle.

Religious institutions would be exempt from the law.

The city council had been scheduled to vote on the ordinance earlier this month but postponed action on it so that the public could provide more input.

The proposed measure is similar to a disputed one that passed last year in San Antonio.


Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at https://twitter.com/juanlozano70