ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Citizens in Orlando, Fla., will have a final chance Dec. 2 to air their views before city council members cast their votes on a proposal to add “sexual orientation” to the city code. Council members voted 4-3 Nov. 18 in favor of the homosexual rights proposal in the first of two votes needed for passage.
Among those gathered to speak out at the Nov. 18 meeting was Jim Henry, pastor of the 10,000-plus-member First Baptist Church in Orlando.
“I was disappointed with this initial vote,” Henry told Florida Baptist Witness. “And disappointed in the representation from our Baptist leaders and laity.”
Henry said although other denominations appeared to be well represented at the meeting, there appeared to be few Baptists. He said he hopes for better attendance at the Dec. 2 meeting.
The proposal, if adopted, will add 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 would give homosexuals a protected class status similar to minorities, women and people with disabilities.
Alan Chambers, executive director of Exodus International, North America, told the Witness both sides arrived hours before the 2 p.m. start of the Nov. 18 meeting, where 75 citizens spoke before the council until the session ended after 9. Exodus is an interdenominational nonprofit Christian organization which promotes the message of “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”
Chambers said the 20 people he lined up to speak were “clear, concise, compelling and redemptive. We had the facts and spoke lovingly.”
Despite frequent comparisons of homosexuals to racial minority groups, this issue “absolutely did not mirror the fight for civil rights in the ’60s,” a number of African American speakers testified, according to Chambers.
In a statement to the council, Henry said: “I have tried to stand on historic lifestyle choices that reflect our Creator, while giving room to these who do not. … I believe there is a great middle where the average citizen stands in this community concern, where we want to have an environment fair to all, but not preferential to any.”
In a separate statement to the Witness, Henry said: “I think the large percentage of Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who hold common moral grounds believe it to be in the best interest of the neighborhood to vote ‘no’ on this amendment. It is a bridge too far.”
Chambers told the council, “I am not anti-gay or homophobic. I am opposed to special rights for homosexuals, just as I am opposed to special rights for heterosexuals, smokers, or any group of people who want protections based on their behavior. The debate today isn’t over how one chooses to live their lives…. The debate is over whether behavior should be protected under the law.”
The issue first surfaced in May 2001 when a citizen’s group, the Orlando Anti-Discrimination Ordinance Committee, requested a review of the human rights ordinance by the city’s human relations board. After an April 16 public hearing, the board proposed the change to the city council.
The council met several times earlier this year before proposing the ordinance. Since then, the city received more than 8,700 letters, e-mails and faxes regarding the ordinance, reported Susan Blexrud, Orlando’s director of communications. Most of those in favor of the amendment live within the city limits of Orlando.
Mathew Staver, president and general counsel of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, urged citizens to petition Mayor Glenda Hood to exercise her veto power and Commissioner Ernest Page to reverse his vote. Staver said Page is beginning to receive “a groundswell of opposition form the African American community” against the amendment. Voters can send e-mails directly to Hood and Page from Liberty Counsel’s website www.lc.org.