Metro Weekly

Jacksonville’s Republican mayor says he’ll sign gay rights law — if it passes

Republican mayor, now in second term, had previously avoided taking a position on nondiscrimination ordinance

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Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry – Photo: Facebook.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry (R) has promised to sign legislation that would replace a 2017 law banning discrimination against LGBTQ people that was recently struck down by a Florida appeals court — if it’s passed by the City Council, an outcome that is not certain.

The proposed legislation, which is expected to be voted on in two weeks, would seek to bar discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity, as did the 2017 ordinance.

It would fix the 2017 ordinance’s technical issues that led the Florida 1st District Court of Appeals to strike down the law, in response to a lawsuit from the conservative legal firm Liberty Counsel.

In its ruling, the court found no problems with the law’s content, but ruled that the ordinance violated local and state laws by saying, in a blanket provision, that sexual orientation and gender identity would be added to every section that lists protected classes.

Instead, the appeals court argued, lawmakers would have to amend the language in each individual section of the city’s existing nondiscrimination law to explicitly include LGBTQ protections.

Supporters of the LGBTQ community have proposed revised legislation that would do just that. But it’s unclear whether there are enough votes to pass the legislation, as six of the 12 members who had approved the 2017 ordinance have since left the Council, and those who replaced them were never asked about their support for the LGBTQ ordinance, reports the Florida Times-Union.

There are currently six Democrats and 13 Republicans on the Jacksonville City Council.

What’s different this time around is that Curry — who previously avoided taking a position on the legislation and allowed it to become law without his signature — has since won re-election. And he’s been much more upfront, telling a reporter with Florida Politics that he would sign the law, noting that it was overturned on a technicality, as opposed to problems with the bill’s underlying nondiscrimination protections.

The legislation has the support of both the Jacksonville Civic Council and the local Chamber of Commerce.

See also: Jacksonville gay couple rejected by wedding photographer “inundated” with other offers

The council will have the chance to vet the 2020 legislation, which must go through three committees before being voted upon by the full Council. That vote is expected to take place on June 16.

The council held a virtual public hearing via Zoom on the proposed legislation last Tuesday, where opponents and supporters came out in force to opine on the underlying nondiscrimination protections.

Opponents of the ordinance largely focused on the bill’s provisions regarding public accommodations, specifically invoking concerns over restroom access. Even though the legislation’s only reference to restrooms allows businesses to operate single-occupancy bathrooms, opponents expressed fears that women and children would be threatened by the presence of transgender individuals in multi-stall facilities.

“My fear is that the passage of this bill will lead to a passage of another bill, and we’ll have everyone in the same bathroom. That’s not the way I think it should be,” said Andrew Duggan.

But proponents of the ordinance said those arguments were red herrings designed to derail the bill without addressing the underlying need for protections for LGBTQ people, who still face significant amounts of discrimination and violence.

Dean VanTice, who was involved in pushing for passage of the 2017 law, testified that the law did exactly what it was intended to do: protect LGBTQ Jacksonville residents while also improving Jacksonville’s reputation to outsiders.

“I remember how proud I was on Valentines Day in 2017 when it passed, and when I travel for work, I’m still proud,” he said.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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