ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–In a final 4-3 vote, the Orlando City Council passed a “sexual orientation” ordinance Dec. 2 on the heels of protracted public meetings and debate over the issue.
Orlando’s mayor, Glenda Hood, voted against the issue, according to Susan Blexrud, Orlando’s director of communications. Blexrud told the Florida Baptist Witness the mayor refused to veto the ordinance, however, because of her support of what she called “the democratic process.” In Hood’s 10 years in office, she has never exercised her veto power. The mayor was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Jim Henry, pastor of First Baptist Church in Orlando, who attended most of the public meetings, including the nearly eight-hour meeting Dec. 2, said he was “deeply saddened” by the vote, and surprised by what he called “pathetic” representation by Baptists.
“A small vocal group can make an impact,” Henry said of the ordinance’s supporters. “Baptists had better start getting involved.”
The amendment added the words “sexual orientation” to an existing human rights ordinance, making it illegal to discriminate against homosexuals in hiring, renting and accessing public accommodations. It gives homosexuals a protected class status similar to minorities, women and people with disabilities and will take effect Jan. 1. At the previous public meeting Nov. 18, citizens presented petitions for nearly seven hours after which a majority vote gave the amendment the first of the two affirmative votes required.
Although disappointed with the result of the vote, Henry said he was encouraged to see Christians come together from various denominations to pray and work together for “a common concern.”
“We have the opportunity to engage the homosexual community,” Henry said. “They saw us speak with compassion, not with hatred.” The contrast was obvious, Henry said, when several former Southern Baptists in support of the ordinance spoke with “a bitter spirit.”
David Myers, director of media and development for Orlando-based Liberty Council, also spoke during the meeting.
“It is a crack in the moral foundation in Orlando,” Myers said of the vote. “But it is just the tip of the iceberg.” He said citizens could stop the amendment, but it would require a petition with approximately 18,000 signatures given to the City Council in 30 days.
People for a United Orlando, a task force formed to oppose the amendment, is scheduled to meet Dec. 3 to decide the next course of action. The group is composed of local pastors, business leaders and organizations, according to Myers.
“But regardless of what happens at the meeting, we will continue to work together,” Myers said. “The Lord has brought us together.”
For the future, Henry said he believes concerned Orlando citizens need to “map out a strategy” that includes running for city office and appointment to city boards and dialoguing with the homosexual community. Henry said the anger and bitterness of the homosexuals is a “deep-down cry for acceptance as a person.”
“We need a game plan,” Henry said. “We need reach to out to the homosexuals, not be afraid or avoid them. They have to find a sense of openness and not of condemnation. We have to be firm on our stand against the lifestyle, but we must look at them through the eyes of Jesus.”