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When It Comes to LGBTQ Rights, Florida Has a Split Personality

When It Comes to LGBTQ Rights, Florida Has a Split Personality

Equality advocates try to correct the state's ugly history just as the GOP governor snubs queer constituents.

Lawmakers in Florida introduced language to repeal the state's Defense of Marriage Act four years after the U.S. Supreme Court declared marriage equality the law of the land. But the symbolic move came a day after newly-sworn in Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ignored LGBTQ rights in a new executive order supposedly affirming non-discrimination in his administration.

Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, a Democrat whose district includes the site of the 2016 Pulse massacre, sponsored a new bill that would formally repeal a state law that explicitly states Florida won't recognize marriages of individuals of the same-sex.

"We are setting a tone for prioritizing Floridians ability to be their authentic selves," Eskamani said.

Eskamani -- a 28-year-old lawmaker who says she first became friends with LGBTQ people in middle school -- hopes a new generation of leadership will help erase discrimatory language of a bygone era. Florida's DOMA statute became law in 1997, a year after President Bill Clinton signed similar legislation at the federal level. Both laws have since been ruled unconstitutional, most notably when the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 made marriage equality the law of the land.

But archaic rules like Florida's law remain on the books. At a press conference held by Equality Florida on Wednesday, advocates noted issues from adoption to birth certificates to employment discrimination remain.

"Unfortunately, even today we must fight leadership of this state so same-gender loving couples face the dignity and sanctity of marriage recognition," said Rev. Joe Parramore of Faith in Public Life.

He married his husband four years ago, right after the state began issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples. But the marriage remains in violation of an archaic state law.

The need for legislation became punctuated yesterday when DeSantis, on the same day he was sworn in to his first term, issued two executive orders, one affirming his administration would not discriminate "based on age, sex, race, color, religion, national origin, marital status or disability." Somehow, sexual orientation and gender identity didn't make the list.

Eskamani considers that a snub.

"There was also quite binary language, with men and women, and not embracing our trans and gender-nonconforming Floridians as well," she said.

Equality Florida put out language criticizing the governor for the oversight.

"It's hard to believe that Governor DeSantis and his staff are not aware of the LGBTQ communities call for these protections following the Pulse tragedy and therefore it is hard to interpret this as anything less than a purposeful omission," said Joe Saunders, senior political director for Equality Florida.

"As Governors across the country establish these critical protections for LGBTQ families, this order draws a stark contrast. We look forward to a dialogue with Governor DeSantis about why LGBTQ employees have been omitted from this critical policy and how he plans to make sure that all Floridians, regardless of who they are or who they love, can be protected from discrimination."

Curiously, the DOMA repeal legislation for now is sponsored completely by lawmakers who are straight, despite Florida having enough LGBTQ lawmakers this year for the House to have a caucus for the first time.

The legislation was introduced by Democratic lawmakers in both chambers of the Florida Legislature, which both are controlled by Republican majorities. Notably, as an anti-President Trump blue wave swept much of America in November, Florida largely missed the splash. Democrat Andrew Gillum lost to DeSantis, a Trump acolyte. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, an LGBTQ ally, also lost his seat to Republican Rick Scott.

Still, Eskamani said there's been growing support for LGBTQ rights on both sides of the aisle in Florida and she expects Republican sponsors to sign on to the legislation as well.

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