Today, HRC released the following statement following a vote of 12 to 6 by the Jacksonville City Council partially updating the city’s non-discrimination ordinance to include sexual orientation and gender identity. While expanding parts of the ordinance to include protections for LGBTQ people, the measure stops short of providing LGBTQ people the same protections it does other protected classes.
“Tonight’s vote follows years of work by HRC and our state and local partners to secure crucial non-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people in Jacksonville,” said HRC National Field Director Marty Rouse. “Unfortunately, this new ordinance misses the mark by singling out LGBTQ people for fewer protections than any other protected group. Progress shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of full and equal protections under the law.”
HRC believes strongly that LGBTQ people in Jacksonville deserve equal protection under the law. However, troubling provisions in the ordinance passed today treat LGBTQ people differently by creating new exemptions that are much broader than those that currently exist for other people protected by the ordinance. The new ordinance grants broad and troubling exemptions for religious organizations from the non-discrimination protections — only for LGBTQ people and not other protected classes. This language guts protections for LGBTQ people when they experience discrimination by religious organizations such as hospitals and emergency shelters.
Freedom of religion is already firmly protected by the First Amendment. Constitutional protections already allow a religious organization to ensure that activities of faith are carried out by, and provided exclusively to, members of their faith. However, prior to today’s update, Jacksonville law also said that when an organization employs people for non-religious purposes or opens its services up to the general public, the organization is forbidden from excluding or discriminating against people who had different religious views. HRC believes this is the same balance that should have been struck in extending the existing protections of the city code to LGBTQ people, who fundamentally deserve equal protection of the law.