When an organization or individual performs a function of the state, such as solemnizing a legal contract of marriage (not conferring the separate and distinct religious sacrament of holy matrimony) or the legal placement of orphaned children into homes, such actions must be done without discrimination and in as neutral of a manner as possible.
For matters of children’s social services, the interests of the children and their well-being are paramount. As a man of faith and a Juris Doctor, I fully understand the Constitutional right of religion to discriminate, but that right of religion has limits. Earlier this legislative session the Florida State Legislature passed a bill (HB7013) that cleans up our State statutes, removing language that the courts have already ruled on as unconstitutional.
This statutory language specifically targeted homosexuals as a group of people and until our courts intervened, permitted our State to specifically discriminate against gay and lesbian persons who were legally able to be foster parents, but barred from the ability to fully adopt children in need of loving parents and homes. The data on this is and has been clear - children do better in homes with parents who want them regardless of those parents’ sexual orientation.
I applauded the actions of our then Governor Charlie Crist who, by refusing to appeal the decision of the lower court, allowed for the ban on gay adoption to be removed from Florida’s law. The legislative measure this session was more housekeeping than a legal requirement, but it still had to overcome several major obstacles before its passage.
Now, we have begun to see a new tactic employed in the making of law – shrouding discrimination under the guise of religious liberty. As an elected official and a man of faith, I find this to be a very disturbing policy action. Religion, as I wrote earlier, has the right to discriminate, and your religion can even discriminate against people. Your faith can hate people because they are white or black, male or female, or even if they are gay. But that is your faith. Thank God it is not mine.
The business of government is not to afford legal avenues of traffic and flow for discrimination, bigotry, or hatred. Another bill in our State legislature, HB7111, would allow just this and permit private adoption agencies, even those which receive support from the State, the right to refuse placing a child with same-sex couples based on religious grounds. This is simply bad legislation and public policy and dangerously encroaches on already existing anti-discrimination law.
If your faith doesn’t believe in equality, you cannot argue that your religion gives you the legal right to refuse people of color a place at the lunch counter or that your religion allows you to establish separate drinking fountains for them.
Let us not forget that not too long ago in many houses of worship, particularly in the South, balconies were not used for better views of the pastor, but a means of racial discrimination and segregation. Your faith doesn’t allow your business to legally bar women from positions of management or leadership.
And your faith certainly doesn’t allow for legalizing homophobia.
If these are the deeply held tenets of your faith, so be it. But might I suggest another course of action? Change your faith - to one of love, acceptance, and understanding. I’d be happy to share with you or anyone the God I have come to know through my belief in Christ and my Jewish and Christian upbringing and the faith that rejects discrimination and works for social justice and equality.
But just as it is not appropriate to sermonize or proselytize from the dais in city hall, it is not appropriate to legalize discrimination based on a religious claim through the channels of government be it by ordinance by a city commission or a bill filed with the state legislature.
Opposition to HB7111 is reflective of the rights of the citizens I was elected to serve and consistent with the proper role of government to not engage in legislating discrimination against a group of people. I was pleased to see the resolution in opposition to this bill or similar legislation come before the Wilton Manors City Commission and was both duty-bound and voluntarily proud to support it.
At the writing of this, HB7111 has passed the Florida House of Representatives and is now being considered by the Florida Senate. While it is unclear whether the bill will be voted upon by the Senate this legislative session, I would nonetheless urge you to contact your State Senator, express your opposition to this bill, and respectfully request that she or he vote against it. And should the measure die this session, contact your State Representative and State Senator and stress your opposition to such a bill in any future legislative sessions.
Justin Flippen is presently a Wilton Manors City Commissioner and a project manager with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, working in the travel and business industry to promote tourism-based economic development and marketing.