Last week, city commissioners from Fort Lauderdale were called upon to endorse a simple ‘marriage equality’ resolution, one that has won support across the country from elective boards. It was entitled to nothing less than unanimous approval.
A largely ceremonial resolution, it simply affirmed the city’s commitment to stand tall against Florida’s constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. This resolution would send an important and resounding message of outreach to the city's LGBT community.
The very unjust legal ban on same-sex marriage was imposed by a vote six years ago. Federal courts have since systematically disemboweled similar laws and state constitutional amendments. The Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing legal same-sex marriages, met its legal doom last year when the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
Neither a legal scholar or a rocket scientist is needed to point out that Florida's ban will crumble this year as well, maybe as soon next week at a July 2 hearing in a Miami courtroom. These types of bans are being challenged in every state in America and one by one are being ruled unconstitutional.
In reality the city commissioners of Fort Lauderdale were being asked to adopt a policy and position consistent with the emerging law. They were not being asked to abandon their religious beliefs.
To its credit, the LGBT community of greater Fort Lauderdale turned out en masse last Tuesday, articulating with emotion and fact, clarity and concern, our collective voice. It was a moment in the sun for all of us. Passion and principle won the day and the vote — barely. The resolution passed by a 3-2 vote.
Prior to the discussion, a majority vote was not secured.
During the debate, we obviously knew that Dean Trantalis, the gay city commissioner who introduced the resolution, forcing the issue, would vote for it. The others though were up in the air.
First of all, on principle alone, it’s not for city commissioners, or county commissioners to vote on your rights. These are your rights, and they are inalienable, sacred, and beyond the provincial reach or concern of commissioners. They are not subject to popular vote. They are warranted by constitutional guarantee.
Still, last Tuesday’s vote had meaning. In our society, whether it’s the American flag, or Bald Eagle, symbols matter. They count, they have impact, and they have influence. The message in Fort Lauderdale that needed to be sent was one of inclusion.
Years before, in a mayoral life thankfully gone away, Jim Naugle attempted to bastardize the gay community. The stain sores us still. This vote was a chance for redemption. Instead of making news by denigrating its LGBT citizens, the commissioners had a chance to champion them. Dozens of cities across America have already endorsed same sex marriage resolutions, so only a 'no' vote would have made that meeting really newsworthy.
Regretfully, Mayor Jack Seiler, decided to remain consistent in his opposition to marriage equality. So too did Romney Rogers, known for his strongly religious beliefs. Lawyers by day, both presented themselves to be historical relics at night, ignoring the fact that marriage is a social contract, not a sacred scripture.
We don't elect candidates to office to interpret scriptures, but rather follow the law and lead the way to a better place for all of us. 'All of us' includes gays and lesbians. The law today requires you to endorse marriage equality not just because it’s the fundamentally fair thing to do, but because courts are saying it’s a fundamental constitutional right.
How dare you as city commissioners parade a 40 foot banner across your dais celebrating Fort Lauderdale as an ‘All-American city’ and then say gays and lesbians are not equal to you, your values, or your rights? South Florida and greater Fort Lauderdale, including locales like South Beach and Wilton Manors, is the epicenter of gay life in America.
On the same day as this vote the U.S. Senate confirmed, by a 97-0 vote, an African American gay man as a U.S. District Court judge. He will serve on the bench across the street from Fort Lauderdale City Hall. Go tell him, and his husband, that their marriage is not valid in your eyes. Go walk through the ArtsUnited same-sex marriage exhibit in the city's main library down the block, and go tell those couples their love is not valid.
In closing, we applaud the candor and honesty of city commissioner Bruce Roberts, who, in a telling moment last Tuesday, summarized the matter with simple eloquence.
His words went something like this: “I didn’t think about these issues years ago, and I didn’t bargain for these kind of debates when I got elected to city commission. But I know the LGBT community consists of good people, fine businesspersons and principled partners of South Florida, and I know what’s right. And passing this resolution is the right thing to do.”
Yes, it was.