Former city leaders support gay rights bill

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A group consisting of some former Jacksonville mayors and former City Council members voiced their support Tuesday for a bill that would amend the city's Human Rights Ordinances.

They were trying to get their message out in support of the ordinance against discrimination in hiring, housing and public housing on the basis of a person's sexual orientation.

The group said it's "common sense" to pass this ordinance because they said it promotes equality.

"We live in a world that is hurting from hate and devastated by discrimination," former City Council President Eric Smith said. "If this means one small step for Jacksonville to rise above that to leave this planet a better place than we found it, I'm all for it, and I am all for it."

"You're allowed to have your religious beliefs. Religious institutions are completely exempted," former Mayor John Delaney said. "But Jesus once famously said, 'Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.' And all this bill is saying is don't cast stones. You can believe what you want, just don't cast the stones."

Currently, it's not against the law to discriminate against homosexuals when it comes to employment, housing and public accommodations.

It's already against the law for employers or renters to discriminate based on race, religion, age, disability and marital status. Bill 2012-296 adds six words to the list on the Human Rights Ordinance: "sexual orientation, gender identity or expression," meaning gays and lesbians would have the same protection everyone else has.

A group opposing the change says it gives special privileges, adding that it could be bad for business in Jacksonville.

"It would set up a special class of people who, once they are hired, couldn't be fired," said Gene Youngblood with the Conservative Theological University. "They have layer after layer of protection. What they're wanting is a super class."

"Why in the hell can't we be an open society? Why can't we just be fair to people? Why can't we all realize we've had to work hard to get where we are, and that other person has that same opportunity," said Bill Basford, former City Council president.

"It really boils down to a simple issue of fairness and equality and non-discrimination," added Matt Carlucci, former City Council president. "You could pull all kinds of objections, but you got to look at the big picture, and that's what I would encourage the council to do."

Current City Council President Stephen Joost said there would be no vote Tuesday night on this bill.

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