JACKSONVILLE – More than 350 people attended a May 22 meeting of the Jacksonville City Council, which included a hearing for a proposed ordinance that would ban discrimination against individuals based upon their sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.
The meeting, which extended past midnight to accommodate statements from approximately 100 of the bill’s supporters and opponents, was attended by a handful of evangelical leaders—who spoke against the measure on moral and religious grounds—including John Stemberger, President of Florida Family Policy Council, who accused supporters of fomenting a regulation that would violate religious liberty, as well as create new protected classes, and expose the city to lawsuits. The measure is aimed at housing, employment, and public accommodations, and has the support of many business and community leaders, who say the absence of such protections hurts Jacksonville’s image and serves as an obstacle to attracting and retaining qualified workers. Supporters included former Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney, who has served as President of the University of North Florida since 2003.
Stemberger, who helped pass the 2008 amendment to Florida’s constitution that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, called the proposed ordinance “constitutionally suspect.” “It removes all references to civil rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution,” said Stemberger.