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Could Orlando Tragedy Change Minds on LGBT Equality?

Gov. Rick Scott

It’s a tragic day, especially tragic for LGBT people. And you have to wonder if those who haven’t been allies will recognize our common humanity.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who hasn’t always been LGBT-friendly, became emotional when speaking at a press conference this morning about the mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. “It’s devastating when you see how many people lost their life, and just the impact it’s gonna have on their families — I mean, I’ve got kids and grandkids — can’t imagine,” he said, choking up.

Scott, a Republican, might've made a different decision when he defended Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage as it was challenged in court, if only he'd imagined his kids and grandkids wanting to marry the person they love. When he ran for reelection in 2014, during a debate with Democratic opponent Charlie Crist, moderator Rosemary Goudreau asked him whether the ban was discriminatory. Scott wouldn’t admit it was; he responded, “I don’t believe in discrimination. I believe in traditional marriage.” A federal judge struck down the ban that year, and the ruling went into effect in January 2015.

Scott, however, did sign into law a bill repealing Florida’s ban on adoption by gays and lesbians — a relic of the antigay activism of entertainer and Florida orange juice pitchwoman Anita Bryant in the late 1970s. The ban had been rendered unenforceable by a court decision in 2010, but it remained on the books until the repeal in 2015, and Scott had faced pressure to veto the repeal.

Also on the plus side, he has said he would veto any “license to discriminate” legislation that came his way; on the minus (sort of) side, he signed a redundant bill guaranteeing that ministers with religious objections to same-sex marriages would not have to perform them — a right already guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. And when he took office in 2011, he signed an executive order promising diversity in state employment, but it did not mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

As the governor meets with families of the victims, and he said today that he would do that at the appropriate time, will their humanity break through to him on the issues?

Sympathetic words also came today from Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior U.S. senator, who also does not have an LGBT-friendly record. “We know there’s hate in the world,” Rubio, who sought the Republican presidential nomination this year, said in a televised press conference. He vowed that the nation will show terrorists “we stand with all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation, regardless of political affiliation, regardless of where they live.” He added, “Despite whatever differences we have when we debate … we are all Americans.”

Earlier, Rubio sent the following tweet:

 

 

And this came from Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus:

 

 

Obviously, it's too early to tell if today’s tragedy will have a long-term effect on conservative rhetoric, and some hard-core anti-LGBT types won’t ever change their beliefs — consider the Westboro Baptist Church, for one. And few, except Westboro types, would fail to express sympathy at such a time. But on LGBT equality, more people might move into what activists call "the movable middle."

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