Anti-gay legislation moves through state, equality bills sit in committee

By : Jeremy Williams
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Tallahassee – Florida’s Legislature has been busy this year pushing through several anti-gay and discriminatory bills masked in the argument that they are to protect women and children.

The “Single-Sex Public Facilities” bill was introduced in the Florida House on Feb. 4 and would prohibit transgender individuals from using public facilities that align with their gender identities. While the bill does not use the word “transgender,” opponents of the bills say its sole purpose is targeting the transgender community.
The bill was sent through to the Civil Justice Subcommittee on March 4 where it passed with a 9-4 vote.  The votes split along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor of the bill and Democrats voting against.

State Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami), who filed the bill, said it was a reaction to Miami-Dade County’s Human Right Ordinance (HRO), which Artiles claims “allows a heterosexual male to walk into a women’s facility” and does not allow a business owner to ask that male to leave.

During the subcommittee hearing, Artiles was asked if there was any rise of criminal activity due to the HRO to demonstrate a need for this bill. Artiles stated the bill is “proactive, not reactive.”

The Government Operations Subcommittee heard nearly two hours of public opinion on the bill on March 17. Speakers overwhelmingly opposed the bill, with many advising that the bill, by definition, creates the problems it purports to protect against.

Even with only nine of the 70 public speakers supporting the bill, the subcommittee voted in favor of it moving it to a third committee hearing.

There are two bills before the Florida Legislature arguing adoption issues, but they do not specifically mention same-sex parents. However, these bills could have a profound impact on LGBT parents and families.

The first is the “Adoption and Foster Care” bill which has one line of text that addresses LGBT issues. The text, which is a small part of a larger adoption bill, would strike the language banning gay adoption from existing state statutes.

The curent law was first passed by the state legislature in 1977 after the anti-gay “Save Our Children” campaign led by Anita Bryant. A state appeals court struck down the law in 2010 saying it was unconstitutional, making this bill to strike the language mostly symbolic.

Rep. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala, stated during the House hearing that this was “one of the toughest votes” he’s made as a member of the House.

Baxley ultimately sided with the 68 Representatives that voted yes on this bill to move it to the state Senate where it currently waits to be heard. Two days later Baxley reversed his decision after meeting with anti-gay activist John Stemberger.

During the March 11 House vote, Baxley mentioned another bill that had been introduced which allowed him to vote yes. The “Conscience Protection for Private Child-Placing Agencies” bill would allow private, child-placing agencies to deny adoption services to couples or individuals if the proposed placement would conflict with their written religious or moral convictions.

The House’s Health & Human Service Committee voted to pass the bill on March 19 and could open the doors for privately owned agencies, regardless of whether they accept government funds, to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender, race or religious preference.

Supporters of the bill, who state that this bill is for the best interest of the state’s children, said it would not discriminate against members of the LGBT community because there are other agencies that will work with them.

Others argue that if this is for the kids, sending people on a manhunt for an agency that will work with them is not in their best interest.

Several other bills that would help to advance the equality of the LGBT community in Florida have been introduced.

Bills to establish a domestic partner registry, prevent “ex-gay conversion therapy,” require court clerks to issue marriage licenses and add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Workforce Act have all been introduced to both the House and Senate, but languish in committee, waiting to be heard.

Florida’s 2015 legislative session ends May 1.

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