US: Florida County Hillsborough votes to include gay rights civil protections

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Hillsborough County commissioners have voted unanimously to expand human rights ordinance to outlaw workplace and public accommodations discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Tampa Bay Times reports that commissioners on Wednesday also voted to set a public hearing for a meeting later this month on a proposed domestic partnership registry, which would give rights to both married and unmarried couples, whether straight or gay.

No commissioners opposed either movement in stark contrast to last year, when four of seven were opposed.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner said: “There’s been a cultural and political shift. I think people are beginning to realize the importance of making sure everyone is treated equally and fairly.”

Mr Beckner, who is gay, pushed both the human rights ordinance and the registry.

He said involving the local business community was crucial to helping changing views on a board that once voted to ban any country recognition of Pride events.

In 1991, more than 2,000 people attended the vote on the human rights ordinance, and guns and knives were confiscated.

Although commissioners managed to successfully bar discrimination, the act was repealed just four years later.

On Wednesday, only about 20 people attended with six speaking calmly before the vote, four of them in favour and two opposed.

“I have faced discrimination eyeball to eyeball,” said Commissioner Les Miller at the vote. “No one should face discrimination, regardless of who they may be.”

Gary Sasso, president of the Carlton Fields Jorden Burt law firm, praised the vote, saying: “Your action on this matter will have a profound impact on the business climate in Hillsborough County.”

A bill which would allow gay couples to enter into “domestic partnerships,” with a view to extending some marital rights to same-sex couples, was filed in the Florida Senate last year.

The state Supreme Court in Florida is currently being asked to rule on the constitutionality of the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

In August, a federal judge ruled the state’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.

Four Florida counties — Monroe CountyMiami-Dade CountyBroward County and Palm Beach County — ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional in recent weeks.

On 8 August, Florida asked for no further rulings to be made on the marriage ban until the US Supreme Court makes a broader decision.