A decades old wrong is about to be righted in Alachua County, Florida this month. Nineteen years ago, in 1994, the Alachua County Commission voted to add sexual orientation to the county anti-discrimination ordinance. Opponents of gay rights responded with a county ballot referendum repealing the above mentioned measure and forbidding commissioners from taking such action in the future.
Supporters of gay rights formed an organization called No On 1 and fought the anti-gay initiative, but they lost. They then filed suit. The judge in the case chose to wait for a decision pending in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Romer v. Evans, in which the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a state anti-gay measure similar to the one in Alachua County.
The SCOTUS decision, authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, while reversing the Colorado Court’s striking down of the portion of the anti-gay law repealing gay rights legislation, upheld the portion of the state court’s decision striking down the section forbidding the state government from enacting gay rights laws in the future. The judge in the Alachua County case responded by treated the Alachua County initiative similarly: uphold the repeal of gay rights protection but invalidated the prohibition against passing any such measure in the future.
Although the future was left open, for the time being gay rights advocates unfortunately had to settle for inclusion of sexual orientation in the City of Gainesville’s anti-discrimination ordinance and inclusion of gender identity later. People were thus protected from discrimination on those bases in Gainesville but not in the rest of the county. For nineteen years lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered had no recourse at the county level.
That was how things stood until June 25, when the County Commission voted 4-1 to vote, on Aug. 13, on once again including sexual orientation, and this time gender identity as well, in the county anti-discrimination ordinance where they belong, the dissenting vote coming from the lone Tea Partier on the commission. Romer v. Evans has finally led to the opportunity to rectify the wrong that was done in 1994.
The time for this action has come. Actually, it came long ago but was thwarted by a vocal, well-funded minority. It is indeed past time for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and the transgendered to get their due, to be granted equal protection under the law. Alachua County and Gainesville should be ahead of the curve on progressive change. Hopefully the county commission will put Alachua County there on LGBT rights.