Florida takes a joyous first step towards equality

LEGAL: Edgard Perez and Charles Windham were married in the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s office last Tuesday on the first full day of gay marriage in Florida.
LEGAL: Edgard Perez and Charles Windham were married in the Miami-Dade County Clerk’s office last Tuesday on the first full day of gay marriage in Florida. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Florida has become the 36th state to allow same-sex marriage. This is wonderful news. No longer will anyone be denied all the delights, benefits and responsibilities of marriage solely because of their sexual orientation.

As one newly married bride was reported saying, “Finally, Florida recognizes us as a couple. It’s just — I don’t know, sweet justice.”

While this represents a joyous first step toward full equality for the LGBT community, it is still just a first step. Florida offers no state-wide civil-rights protection for people who are gay, lesbian or transgender.

Twenty-one other states, in contrast, bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (and usually gender identity as well) in housing, employment and places of public accommodation like stores, restaurants, hotels and movie theaters. No such state law exists in Florida.

Florida state law does ban race, sex, religion, age, disability and marital-status discrimination. But unequal treatment because of sexual orientation is still legal outside of the 28 municipalities like Miami-Dade and Broward counties that have implemented their own protective legislation. As a result, almost half of Florida’s residents are vulnerable to being denied access to basic necessities and to being treated like second-class citizens.

In those parts of Florida, you can be denied housing because you are gay; you can be refused services because you are gay; and you can lose your job because you are gay. Even though you may finally be able to marry your soul mate, a landlord may tell you that she does not want to rent you your dream house, a shopkeeper can refuse to sell you champagne glasses and your boss can fire you after discovering from your new wedding photo that you are gay.

To be sure, not everyone is thrilled that Florida has joined the wave of states that have struck down their marriage bans.

But you need not support same-sex marriage in order to believe that people should be able to find a home, work and go about their lives without suffering from discrimination. Everyone is entitled to at least that measure of respect and dignity.

The Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 states that its goal is “to secure for all individuals within the state freedom from discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, handicap or marital status and thereby to protect their interest in personal dignity...and to promote the interests, rights and privileges of individuals within the state.”

We should add sexual orientation and gender identity to that list. In fact, a bipartisan bill, the Competitive Workforce Act, would do exactly that to Florida’s existing housing, employment, and public accommodations protection. Floridians should support it, and the Legislature should pass it.

It was a great day when Florida joined the ranks of marriage-equality states. Florida’s next step should be to grant full equality to its LGBT citizens and extend to them all its civil-rights protections.

Caroline Mala Corbin is a professor at the University of Miami School of Law.