Liberty and Justice for All

Five years can seem to pass in an instant. 
But in politics, it’s a lifetime.

In 2008, 62 percent of Florida voters approved the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Florida is one of 35 states that limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, either through legislation or constitutional amendments.

But in February, 75 percent of Floridians said they favor allowing gay couples to legally wed or form civil unions, according to Public Policy Polling. The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that 52 percent of Floridians approved of legalizing same-sex marriages.

In almost every poll conducted this year, a majority of Americans say it should be legal for same-sex couples to marry. Voters in three states legalized same-sex marriage last year, and three more states passed marriage equality legislatively this year. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage; that’s 30 percent of the U.S. population.

Will it take another five years, another political lifetime, to overturn the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment? And should civil rights be litigated by public referendum anyway?

It seems unlikely that a majority of voters in 1964 would have passed the Civil Rights Act that outlawed major forms of discrimination against minorities and ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public.

Why should Florida have to wait for public opinion to tip the 60 percent mark among voters to reverse this wrong-headed referendum?

The Supreme Court’s repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in what now seems like the stone age of 1996, affirmed the principle that all couples who are legally married in their state deserve equal treatment under the law.

However, the repeal of DOMA will expand protections for those legally married only in states that recognize the freedom to marry whomever one loves. In Florida, same-sex couples will continue to face discrimination.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, and Jonathan Kislak, a former Republican appointee in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, wrote a column in the June 30 Miami Herald saying it’s time to evaluate the decision made five years ago.

“It is wrong to deny LGBT Floridians the basic rights enjoyed by so many other Americans. We must actively, and authentically, engage our fellow citizens to ensure that the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution are extended to all Floridians,” Ros-Lehtinen and Kislak wrote.

“Our nation has taken a number of historic strides towards equality, from the repeal of the military’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to this recent repeal of DOMA. Much work remains to secure maximum freedoms under the law for all our citizens, but when we look back on these efforts, we will be proud to have been on the right side of history.”

Meanwhile, Jacksonville has its own wrong to right. Last year, the City Council failed to pass an amendment to the Human Rights Ordinance that would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Mayor Alvin Brown failed to take a position despite heavy support from business leaders who said the HRO amendment was necessary for attracting companies and jobs.

Much of the opposition to equality for LGBT individuals goes something like this: If same-sex couples are allowed to marry, it threatens the sanctity of traditional marriages, and if we expand protections to people based on sexual orientation, it endangers those who believe in God.

On the evening of June 26, a few hundred people gathered in Hemming Plaza to celebrate the Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, which restored same-sex marriage rights in that state.

Brittany Cline and Evelyn Jackl attended the event because of what the rulings mean for their generation.

“It was important for us to be a part of history,” Cline said. “When we have kids, it’s something we can tell them about.”

Together for about a year, they plan to have some kind of commitment ceremony in the future, when they can afford the time off and travel to a state where it’s legal.

But why should they have to go somewhere else to take part in a ceremony that any opposite-sex couple can have?

Cline said many people were confused when they voted for the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment five years ago, including her mother, who she described now as a “rainbow flag-flying proud parent.” She said the amendment was billed as preservation of marriage, not the denying of rights to same-sex couples.

She wondered aloud why same-sex marriages are cast as threats to “traditional” unions but not the three-month marriage between Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries or reality shows like “The Bachelor” or “Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?”

“Those aren’t a threat to marriage?” 
Cline asked.

Cynthia Dane, an account manager at Citibank who attended the rally, said the Supreme Court decisions are a step in the right direction. She said Citibank supports domestic partnerships and received a 100 rating on the Human Right Campaign ( 2013 Corporate Equality Index. The company even allowed employees to fly a rainbow flag for a week in June to celebrate Gay Pride.

But, she said, the lack of a HRO amendment protecting sexual orientation means many people in Jacksonville worry about losing their jobs or housing. And it could keep companies like hers from considering expansion to Jacksonville.

But the DOMA and Proposition 8 decisions help, she said.

“It gives us a little hope to fight a little harder for that [HRO amendment],” Dane said. “Nobody wants to worry about that every day.”

Steve Chapman, a member of the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, wrote in a June 30 column the idea that believers will suffer rank oppression is a fantasy.

“The only liberty they will lose is the liberty to deprive others of their liberty. Sorry, but that’s one freedom a free society doesn’t offer.”