In a cliffhanger decision, the Jacksonville City Council by a 10-9 vote Wednesday rejected a bill expanding the city’s human rights ordinance to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.
A standing-room-only crowd of about 500 people tensely watched the votes of council members appear on the digital video board.
The Chamber of Commerce and Jacksonville Civic Council, a group of business leaders, supported the bill. They said the lack of local legal protection for gays and lesbians hurts the city’s ability to attract talented workers at a time when Jacksonville is competing with other cities for businesses.
The bill’s opponents said it would force people to compromise their moral beliefs. They also questioned whether the amount of discrimination against gays and lesbians rises to the level of requiring the government to become involved in the day-to-day affairs of businesses.
It’s that last paragraph that jumps out at me. How moral is it to allow discrimination against a segment of the community because of someone’s ability to distort their delusional belief in a collection of myths and fables into law? Somewhere in there, the rigidity of faith runs headlong into the basic foundation of the laws of this country as put down in the Constitution. And in this country, the rights of all the people take precedence over the superstition and bigotry of the foolish and the weak who haven’t got the moral courage to recognize that a bunch of cobbled-together thou-shalt-nots from 4 B.C. might not work in a society where the carved-in-stone ideal — equal protection under the law — is simply treating everyone the same. That doesn’t mean you can’t believe in whatever you want or worship whomever you choose. It just means you can’t force it on everyone else.
As for the idea that the amount of discrimination against the LGBTQ community doesn’t rise to the level of requiring government protection, I beg to differ. You can still get fired in Florida just for being gay. You can still be denied housing. Gay people by law cannot adopt children. There are numerous benefits, including insurance, inheritance, and pension benefits that are available only to married couples or survivors that don’t go to same-sex partners or widowed mates. And, of course, marriage equality is still denied in Florida. So the question is, which of those discriminatory practices against the gay community rises to the level of requiring government protection? Answer: any one of them.
In 1977 Anita Bryant bolstered her sagging career as a pop singer and orange juice huckster to campaign against equal protection under the law here in Miami-Dade County. She and her polyester-clad bigots won the repeal of the anti-discrimination ordinance, but she sparked the rise of awareness among more than just the gay community that discrimination based on sexual orientation is fundamentally wrong. Thirty-five years later, we — all of us, straight and otherwise — have won a lot more than we’ve lost, but this vote in Jacksonville tells us we still have to keep at it.