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HOUSTON - A judge has knocked down a conservative court challenge to new protections Houston officials granted gay and transgender residents.

State District Judge Robert Schaffer ruled Friday that the city of Houston was within its rights to reject a petition circulated by conservative activists that would have referred the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance to city voters. Schaffer agreed with city officials that the petition bore insufficient valid signatures to compel a referendum.

Schaffer's ruling comes after a Harris County jury verdict that also sided with the city against the conservative activists.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who is gay, hailed the ruling as "a great victory" and "a great day for civil rights in Houston."

Andy Taylor, the petitioners' attorney, says his clients aren't giving up and plan to appeal the ruling.