JACKSONVILLE (FBW)-Clay Yarbrough, an at-large member of Jacksonville’s City Council, urged opposition of a bill supporters propose will ban discrimination against individuals based on sexual orientation and “gender identity or expression.”
Yarbrough, a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, told Florida Baptist Witness late June 9 City Council had received about 4,000 emails regarding the bill. Approximately 1,600 are in support of it and 3,200 are in opposition, he said. Yarbrough is optimistic residents will continue to express their opinions to council members, who he believes will “look at the facts.”
“We need more [comments] to come in and support those good values that we know are true and are of the Lord,” Yarbrough said. “If someone has not weighed in they should weigh in and do it now.”
Meanwhile, John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Policy Council, said the organized opposition to the bill, 2012-296, is going well.
“We have basically exposed this piece of legislation for what it is,” Stemberger said following a June 5 hearing. “And that is an infringement upon religious liberties, the Constitution, and rights of association.”
In a hearing of the Rules Committee June 4, Councilman Warren Jones, the bill’s sponsor, proffered an amendment to the bill which he said would strike “gender and identify and expression,” clarify that churches are exempted, reinsert references to the U.S. Constitution, and add exemptions for businesses which employ 15 or fewer workers.
In addition, Jones said the bill would send those with complaints to the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission and “doesn’t given anybody the license to sue.”
An hour-long discussion focused the debate around whether some church-affiliated or individuals could be impacted by the measure; the role of the HRC despite the bill’s intentions; and the high number of “small” businesses in Jacksonville which employee more than 15 individuals.
While no public comments were allowed, committee members asked questions of those in council chambers.
Councilman Matt Schellenberg asked Jones to identify the bill’s drafter. Jones deferred the question to former Jacksonville mayor and University of North Florida President John Delaney who said Equality Florida, a statewide, pro-gay activist organization prompted a local ad-hoc group to take action on the bill since Jacksonville, “unlike all of the other major cities in the state, did not have this.”
Local attorney Roger Gannam, also affiliated with the Alliance Defense Fund, answered questions by Yarbrough and others.
Gannam said the issues are multifaceted and relate to discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing—areas for which there are different rules.
In employment, for instance, Gannam said the difficulty is not in the hiring and firing, but in the case someone claims protection under the sexual orientation category.
“It’s very subjective. It is not susceptive to objective determination by the employer,” Gannam said of sexual orientation. “It really will depend on what the person feels like intrinsically as it’s internally defined.”
If the measure passes, employers essentially could be faced with asking whether they have “to chill the free speech rights” of other employees or customers, said Gannam, who believes the measure is constitutionally suspect.
Bank executive Bennett Brown, a Jacksonville resident for 37 years, said as a member of the local Chamber of Commerce he was never contacted about the measure and “most small businesses in Jacksonville” would be opposed to the bill. He contended businesses needed fewer, and not more regulations.
At the end of about 60 minutes of discussion, the matter was deferred until the next meeting with no action taken on the amendment.
At the June 5 meeting of the Recreation, Community Development, Public Health & Safety Committee, Chairman Bill Gulliford announced public comments were welcome after officials had an opportunity to weigh in. The issue was discussed for 90 minutes, after which time the matter was deferred until the next meeting with no action taken.
Ginger Soud, a former councilwoman who was president 1999-2000 and served until 2003, said she opposes the ordinance because there is not a sufficient body of research showing a “protected class” is needed; the EEOC has a process for such claims already; and that the City Council would be overstepping its bounds in providing unnecessary governance in this matter if it were to enact this legislation.
Soud outlined powers she said Jacksonville’s HRC has which include subpoena witnesses and conciliation; compelling a full hearing or trial; ordering compliance, leveraging fines, and seeking damages to enforce its orders.
“To submit our citizens and our businesses to such a process is unthinkable,” Soud said.
Stemberger put the issue into a larger context.
“Same-sex attraction has always been with us since the beginning of time. That’s nothing new. … What is new, and what is dangerous and what we oppose, is this artificial, social construct called gay,” Stemberger said. “It’s in your face; it’s shoving down your throat; and it’s intimidation. It’s not just, ‘let’s be left alone and let’s just have rights.’ It’s now forcing everyone else to agree—by the force of law and lawsuits with money damages. That’s what we oppose.”
Responding to questions from council members, Stemberger said in every state where marriage amendment have been overturned, that states have relied upon the collective “scheme” of ordinances where protected classes are created—such as the one being considered.
Councilwoman Kimberly Daniels, who is also a local pastor, took a point of personal privilege to address how some individuals laughed at her and made comments at the May 22 meeting.
“I am a believer; I am a Christian,” Daniels said. “Religion is a protected class. What I experienced last Tuesday night, it was not pro gay; it was anti God.”
“My family is being harassed; my life is being threatened,” Daniels continued. “I have experienced so much hate from the homosexual community…I don’t care who sleeps with who… I love America…I would like not to be discriminated against, too.”
Gannam told the Witness in an interview after the June 5 hearing he is not surprised Equality Florida wrote the bill. Its organizational goal, he said, is to reach as many cities as possible with similar measures.
Despite Jones’ assurance that the measure precludes “being sued” for non-compliance, Gannam said the original ordinance does nothing to alter the power of the Jacksonville HRO. The unintended consequence of the bill’s passage could end up being expensive and burdensome to businesses.
“Employers need to know what they are dealing with to have any hope to comply,” Gannam said, and that’s something they understand.
The Jacksonville City Council meets June 12 but is not likely to vote on the bill at that time, Yarbrough said. The committees meet again June 18 (Rules) and 19 (RCDPHS). If the bill comes out of the committees (which require a majority vote) it will go before the full Council on June 26. Otherwise, the earliest it is likely to be taken up again in committees is July 16-17 and in full Council on July 24 after the Council's summer break.
You must be login before you can leave a comment. Click here to Register if you are a new user.