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Jacksonville Passed LGBTQ Ordinance Despite Cherry-picking Christian Opposition


— February 22, 2017

Valentine’s Day brought more than candy hearts and sweet cards for LGBTQ residents of Jacksonville, Florida this year. Justice was done as Jacksonville passed an ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents from housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It took five years of fighting, but the Jacksonville City Council finally did the right thing despite opposition from some Christians focused on cherry-picking arguments from the Bible.


Valentine’s Day brought more than candy hearts and sweet cards for LGBTQ residents of Jacksonville, Florida this year. Justice was done as Jacksonville passed an ordinance protecting LGBTQ residents from housing and employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It took five years of fighting, but the Jacksonville City Council finally did the right thing despite opposition from some Christians focused on cherry-picking arguments from the Bible.

Even though this is a major victory in the fight for equal treatment under the law, the amended anti-discrimination law has some very specific exemptions. These exemptions apply only to acts of discrimination targeting LGBTQ people. How… convenient, for some.

According to Kirk Bailey, the political director of ACLU of Florida, “It is significant that one of the largest cities that had not yet done so has acknowledged that LGBT people deserve explicit protection against discrimination. However, this ordinance falls short of fully providing those protections.”

Indeed, Jacksonville was the last major city in Florida to offer some form of legal protection for the LGBTQ community. Jacksonville finally joined several cities across the country in offering what state governments and the federal government won’t: the freedom to be oneself without fear of losing one’s job or being denied housing. The Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and other civic leaders believed the amended law was necessary for the city to remain competitive. In the end, it passed 12-6 and does exempt smaller businesses employing 15 or fewer employees.

Mr. Bailey continued, saying that the “vote was an important milestone, but it is not the end of this fight. We intend to continue working in the community until LGBT people in Jacksonville enjoy full and equal protection under the law.”

The exemption that prevents such protection actually legalizes discrimination in employment and housing against the LGBTQ community if it’s done by religious organizations. Interestingly, this “legal” discrimination only targets the LGBTQ community and no one else.

Mr. Bailey explains: “Jacksonville’s laws already ensure that religious organizations can conduct their religious activities as they see fit, and protecting LGBT people doesn’t change that. But the exemption in the ordinance will allow a religiously-affiliated school to fire a gay janitor, or a religiously-affiliated homeless shelter to turn away a transgender person or a same-sex couple. It sends the message that Jacksonville thinks that LGBT discrimination is different, and more legitimate, than other forms of discrimination – and even permissible for certain institutions.”

Tom Serwatka, currently a vice president at the University of Florida, was one of the people who wrote the original bill. He knew the proposed amendment would raise the ire of a “vocal minority” in his words.

Who is that “vocal minority” and what are their objections to equal protection for all U.S. citizens?

Certain members of the Jacksonville City Council, as well as some business owners and conservative Christian clergy make up the “vocal minority.” Over the last five years, that minority killed the bill twice and even this time around, the minority remained “vocal.”

One resident, Kathleen Perrera referred to equal protection as “a sad comment on society at large” and said the bill would “grant special privileges to a deviant group.” Another opponent, Marshall Wood, doesn’t like the idea of equal protection because, in his opinion, it’s a threat to Christian religious freedom. According to Mr. Wood, “It is morally reprehensible, in my view, that Americans who have a small business can be crucified by an HRO (human rights ordinance) amendment for which there is no need.” He added that those opponents who are “a little more militant” would keep fighting against equal protection. He concluded by saying, “I think we’re gonna find out this was a major error for Jacksonville.”

So, there’s an example of the “vocal minority.” But upon what do they base their assertions that equal protection for all U.S. citizens is akin to crucifying small business owners?

The answer is both simple and complex. The simple part is that they base their objections upon an antiquated book. And no, I’m not talking about the Bible, at least not in its entirety. I’m referring specifically to the Old Testament. Papers and books can and have been written on the issue of Old Testament vs. New Testament and to replicate every argument in a blog post is nigh unto impossible. That’s where the answer takes on some complexity.

However, the root of the question is whether Old Testament law is still valid and mandatory for Christians. According to Hebrews 8:13 (NIV), “By calling this covenant [the New Testament] ‘new’ he has made the first one [the Old Testament] obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” [Emphasis added]

Regardless of the Old Testament vs. New Testament argument, there are two very important parts of the New Testament that this “vocal minority” seems to be ignoring.

The first and perhaps most important part is found in Mark 12:30-31, NIV: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” [Emphasis added]

The second part this “vocal minority” seems to have forgotten comes from Matthew 7:1-2, NIV: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” [Emphasis added]

So, it boils down to “love each other” and “don’t judge.” Or, in more modern parlance, “Live and let live.” Yet, the “vocal minority,” claiming to fear for their religion, seems to want to cherry-pick the parts they follow. What a convenient means of masking one’s bigotry.

Image courtesy of www.imgflip.com.
Image courtesy of www.imgflip.com.

If, for the sake of argument, the “vocal minority” actually did practice their religion according to the above verses, how would this harm small businesses? In fact, these businesses may do well as LGBTQ people tend to support (and advertise, via word of mouth) businesses that are welcoming.

Or, if the “vocal minority” really wanted to practice what they’re actually preaching, the list of exemptions – or customers not welcomed at their establishments – would have to be expanded to include:

  • Those who eat pork and shellfish (Leviticus 11, NIV);
  • Women who are menstruating or are less than seven days post-childbirth (Leviticus 12, NIV);
  • Any man (regardless of sexual orientation) who ejaculates or has sex with a woman, as well as the women with whom he had sex (Leviticus 15, NIV);
  • Those who enjoy a rare steak, as eating blood is forbidden (Leviticus 17, NIV);
  • Men who shave and anyone with tattoos (Leviticus 19, NIV);
  • Anyone who takes the name of God in vain. In fact, small business owners would be responsible not just for refusing this person service, but for stoning them to death (Leviticus 24, NIV).

You pretty much get the idea by now, I hope. Cherry-picking verses from the Bible as a means of legitimizing one’s bigotry and doing so in the name of protecting Christianity is hypocritical at worst and simply illogical at best. You follow “the Law” to the letter and hate everyone or, better still, accept the fact that “the Law” really says “Live and Let Live.”

Congratulations to those who worked for justice in Jacksonville and shame on the “vocal minority” for using what is supposed to be a peaceful, loving religion as a weapon of discrimination.

Sources:

ACLU of Florida Responds to Jacksonville Human Rights Ordinance Vote
Battle over LGBT rights ends in Jacksonville, Florida

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