Orlando – Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, for the first time, officially stated his support for marriage equality during his 2014 State of the City Address.
“Diversity is our greatest strength and a vibrant, welcoming community attracts the kind of industries and talent our cities need. That’s why we were one of the first cities in Florida to adopt a domestic partner registry, and now we have more than 1,200 couples registered,” Dyer said. “I hope that one day we are the city that hosts the state’s first same-sex wedding. Love and commitment should be encouraged, and it should be celebrated and it should be embraced as a constitutional right for all.”
Dyer said he just wanted to “be on the record as being supportive” for equality and marriage equality.
City workers, local news organizations, elected officials and LGBT organizations gathered to listen to Mayor Dyer’s speech. Among those present was Commissioner Patty Sheehan, the first openly gay elected city official, who acknowledged the impact marriage equality would have on helping bring economic prosperity to Orlando.
“This community has done a lot of work over the last 20 years. I think it’s taken a long time to get elected officials to embrace that idea and put it in the State of the City Address, so I think it’s great that we’re finally hearing those things,” Sheehan said. “I’m hoping it will help wake up the Legislature to realize that this is definitely a tourist development thing, embracing [same-sex] weddings and bringing people here to this state.”
She said if Florida’s Legislature would fall in line with big-city mayors, “we could really bring equality to the next level.”
At the rally, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs also noted progress when it comes to embracing the local LGBT community.
“I think Orange County and Orlando have made great strides toward making this community very friendly to the LGBT community,” Jacobs said. “We are a very supportive and embracing community for all walks of life.”
When she ran for county mayor in 2010, Jacobs told Watermark that she opposes marriage for same-sex couples. And some LGBT activists accused her of obstructing the countywide Domestic Partner Registry that eventually passed in 2012, and which Jacobs voted for. Jacobs is currently seeking a second term in office and Watermark has requested an interview to see if her positions, like those of many supportive elected officials, have evolved.
Mikael Audebert, president of MBA Orlando, saw Mayor Dyer’s public support of marriage equality as a step toward sending the message back to Tallahassee that it’s time for change.
“I think it’s important, first, that mayors around Central Florida and around Florida actually support equality and support marriage equality, because if they can send a message back to Tallahassee, it will make [legalizing marriage equality] much easier,” Audebert said. “We in Orlando, here, are up to the challenge not to just have to first couple to get married but to also educate companies, letting them know why it’s so important for marriage equality and how it impacts the workplace.”
According to Audebert, marriage equality will help Florida become more competitive in the workforce marketplace because it will attract more people to the state for job opportunities and business growth. MBA did an economic impact study, which showed the losses that central Florida experienced by not legalizing same-sex marriage. He said wedding planners were losing $150 million a year in Central Florida alone.
“Every civil rights movement that has moved forward faster than others has been because it has been driven by economics,” Audebert said.
LGBT activist and Orlando attorney Mary Meeks said the mayor’s long-time support has always been appreciated for LGBT issues.
“I think what was important about what the mayor said today is his leadership and his willingness to embrace the community and embrace equality, to define it as a constitutional right, and to stand ready, willing and able to host that first marriage when it becomes legal,” Meeks said.
Randy Stephens, executive director of The GLBT Center of Central Florida, pointed out that Mayor Dyer has always backed LGBT issues, but for him to publicly throw his support behind equality and marriage equality meant a lot.
“Of course, Orlando has a lot to gain from [Dyer’s support]. We will be the central location for a lot of marriages once we do have it in the state of Florida,” Stephens said. “People will flock down here to have same-sex marriages, to spend their honeymoons and to spend a lot of money, which was the gist of the mayor’s speech.”
Mayor Dyer laid out a blueprint of how Orlando will move forward in the future, Stephens said, but he took the time to acknowledge the accomplishments and what has been done in the last couple years.
In addition to LGBT equality, Dyer spoke about a number of topics during his April 10 speech but his focus was on the soon-to-start SunRail. He said initiatives like this, along with working on other economic key points, will turn Downtown Orlando and Central Florida into a more welcoming tourism location and a better place to call home for all.
Photos by Patrick O’Connor