Gay rights bill discussion continues

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The city of Jacksonville continued its discussion Monday on a hotly debated bill designed to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

There are strong opinions on both sides of the fence, and the rules committee, which hosted Monday's meeting, talked about the amendment in front of a full room split down the middle on the issue.

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.

Some small businesses owners like Bill Love claim it could infringe on his freedom as an employer.

"I'm concerned about my own freedom of religion, expression and a stifling of conversation in the workplace," Love said.

Those who support the bill say it's just the right thing to do and that no one should be discriminated against.

"Well, as a member of the community myself, I've experienced my own discrimination in employement and in housing, as a matter of fact, having neighbors harass me when I was raising my child, calling (the Department of Children and Families) because I was supposedly trying to raise my child as a lesbian," said Carrington Mead.

Even council members appear to be split on the issue. Councilman Warren Jones, who helped sponsor the bill, believes it needs to pass.

"It's good for the community, it's the right thing to do and it helps the business community," Jones said.

Others say it's just another unecessary law.

"I plan to vote against it because people are better than this, and we don't need laws for everything that we have to regulate," councilman Matt Schellenberg said.

There's been lots of talk, but an official vote has yet to happen.

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