It seems that certain Republicans in Florida see controversy erupt over legislation in other states and think to themselves, "Hmm, how do we bring that controversy to the Sunshine State?"
Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a freshman Republican lawmaker who was enthusiastically endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio, has introduced a wide-ranging "right to discriminate" bill in the Florida house that many believe is in reaction to the legalization of gay marriage. Similar to controversial bills debated in Indiana and Colorado, the bill would give religious organizations, individuals, some privately owned businesses and health-care facilities the right to deny certain services to people if they feel that their religious or moral beliefs would be broken.
In other words, it's the kind of bill that would protect a bakery from the apparently damning horrors of frosting a cake for a gay wedding. Though, it would actually go even further and protect adoption agencies who refuse to place children with LGBT parents. As written, businesses and others could also cite other reasons for denying service.
The bill is somewhat vague and doesn't specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity. Instead it protects against having to provide services or custom products for reasons that would run "contrary to religious or moral convictions or policies." Health-care providers, individuals, businesses owned by five or fewer people, or a church and churches themselves would be covered under the law.
In an interview with his local paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Gonzalez spelled out why he introduced the bill.
“We have seen in other states the bakers, the photographers who don’t want to participate in certain religious events,” Gonzalez said.
Gay-rights group Equality Florida has naturally come out against the bill.
"Legal experts say this bill is even worse than the disastrous Indiana bill that sparked a nationwide backlash," read a statement from the group. "Indiana’s governor called a hasty special session to repeal that costly mistake.
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"Not only would passing this bill tell the rest of the country that Florida is a mean-spirited, discriminatory state. It would also allow a healthcare provider to deny reproductive and contraceptive services to women; retailers to refuse service to LGBT people; a day care to refuse admittance of a child with LGBT parents, and many other outcomes we believe most people would find deeply unfair."
Gonzalez said he's open to changing some aspects of his bill, including limiting businesses to only denying "custom" services or products. Thus, someone could pick up a cake off the shelf from an anti-gay bakery for a gay wedding, but could be refused if they ask the bakery to make a custom one. He also says he's open to limiting exceptions to refusing services only if they're in conjunction with a "religious event."
“This is not about discriminating,” said Gonzalez. “This is making sure the state stops, at a narrowly crafted level, from intruding into somebody’s liberties.”
A somewhat similar bill that concerned adoption agencies passed the state House last year but ultimately died in the Senate. The "Protect a Pastor" act has also been filed in the Florida legislature. Despite the fact there's no legal precedent of a church official being forced to perform a wedding he or she didn't want to, the bill would "protect" pastors from being forced to marry homosexual couples.