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Gainesville city attorneys: Marriage amendment would weaken nondiscrimination law

News release from Equality Gainesville:

Gainesville City Attorneys Warn of Far-reaching Effects of a Proposed Charter Amendment that would Weaken City's Inclusive Non-Discrimination Ordinance

Gainesville, FL: On Thursday, the Gainesville City Commission heard from city attorneys about the constitutionality and legal ramifications of a proposed city charter amendment in Gainesville that would repeal protections in housing, employment, credit, and public accommodation based on sexual orientation and gender identity, two categories not in the specific Florida Civil Rights statutes the proposed charter amendment cites.

The city attorneys indicated it is also possible the proposed charter amendment would prohibit Gainesville from enforcing protections for classes cited in other Florida statutes, such as veteran preference, familial status, and union membership, which would put Gainesville in violation of Florida law. A political action committee, Equality is Gainesville's Business, has launched a campaign in support of Gainesville's current and future civil rights protections.

In January of this year, Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, joined more than 100 cities and counties and 13 states and the District of Columbia to include gender identity as an additional class against whom discrimination is prohibited. Since 1998, Gainesville has included sexual orientation as a protected category from discrimination in housing, employment, credit, and public accommodation since 1998.

Equality is Gainesville's Business formed in June 2008 when the anti-gay political action committee called Citizens for Good Public Policy (CGPP) began a petition drive to change the Gainesville charter to prevent the City from adding or enforcing any civil rights protections not in specific statutes of the Florida Civil Rights Act.

Also at the October 2 meeting, the Gainesville (Florida) city Commission took the initial step mandated by the city charter to place the proposed amendment on the March 24 city election ballot. In August, the City's Supervisor of Elections certified that 6,343 of the signatures CGPP collected were valid, surpassing the 5,581 required.

Campaign and community leaders have held rallies at Gainesville's City Hall to discuss the actual implications of a proposed ballot initiative that would repeal discrimination protections in housing, employment, credit, and public accommodation for all LGBT people. Campaign spokesperson Terry Fleming explains the group's goal is to "stand united in opposition to the proposed charter amendment."

Nadine Smith, Equality Florida's Executive Director, is also a strong supporter of the current ordinance, and agrees that "Hardworking, high-performing employees shouldn't be fired just because they're gay or transgender. Since 1998, the City of Gainesville has protected gay and lesbians from being unfairly fired or evicted, something that Florida State law does not cover."

Gainesville City Commissioner and campaign chairperson Craig Lowe explained that "Gainesville has carefully cultivated an inclusive environment where every person can contribute and enjoy all we have to offer as a community. This charter amendment would undo all of that."

Mara Keisling, the Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington D.C. is working with a coalition of national and local leaders to educate voters about this ballot measure and explains "Unfortunately, our opponents want to use misinformation and fear-based tactics to remove protections that have been shown to benefit Gainesville's residents. Preserving the American ethic of fair treatment for hard work is important and so are the rights of residents to provide housing and income for their families."

Lowe also noted that "Gainesville should not surrender its home rule authority to fight discrimination."

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