Orlando Sentinel Editorial – April 15, 2015

Florida lawmakers must reject measures that would permit LGBT discrimination, and rule it out once and for all.

Most Floridians oppose LGBT discrimination, but state lawmakers still haven’t gotten the memo. 

Public attitudes on gay rights have undergone a remarkable, rapid reversal across America in recent years, including in Florida. In 2008, 62 percent of state voters approved an amendment to the constitution to ban same-sex marriage. By last year, a Quinnipiac University poll found 56 percent of Floridians supported gay marriage. Meanwhile, the ban was ruled unconstitutional by state and federal judges. 

Yet many of Tallahassee’s leaders still haven’t gotten the memo. The capital has become one of the last bastions of opposition to treating LGBT Floridians with fairness and dignity. 

Barring a last-minute change of heart among House or Senate committee chairs, a bill banning discrimination in Florida based on sexual orientation or gender identity will die without even getting a hearing in either chamber. In burying the bill, known as the Competitive Workforce Act, the Legislature’s supposedly pro-business Republican leaders have rebuffed requests from a coalition representing 30 major employers and more than 300 local businesses. 

The coalition includes such Fortune 500 companies as Disney, CSX, Darden, Wells Fargo and Marriott. In a recent letter to legislators, company executives said they’re more likely to attract and keep top talent, and Florida will draw even more visitors, if the state takes a strong stand against discrimination. It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s good for business. It’s also the will of the majority: A 2013 poll commissioned by the coalition found 63 percent of Floridians would ban LGBT discrimination. 

While 28 counties and municipalities in the state, including Orange County and Orlando, have passed local ordinances to prohibit such discrimination within their boundaries, nearly half of Floridians live in places where they aren’t protected. They can still be fired from their jobs, or evicted from their home, or denied service by a business, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Even as lawmakers have refused to outlaw LGBT discrimination, House committees this session have approved measures allowing adoption agencies to turn away gay couples, and threatening transgender Floridians with fines or jail if they use the “wrong” public bathroom. Sponsors and supporters of those measures would double down on discrimination. 

So far, the state Senate hasn’t gone along with the House, which could spare Florida the kind of national backlash that Indiana and Arkansas recently brought on themselves. After lawmakers in both states passed bills that could have permitted businesses to use religion as license to refuse to serve LGBT customers, their governors backtracked under pressure — primarily from businesses. 

Florida’s leaders should stop paddling against the current of history. As the coalition said in its letter to lawmakers, “The time is now for Florida to roll out the welcome mat to everyone who wants to work, live and play here.” 

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