Group wants voters to decide on HRO

By Vic Micolucci, General assignment reporter, vic@wjxt.com
Published On: Sep 01 2014 02:47:33 PM EDT
Updated On: Sep 01 2014 06:29:30 PM EDT

The clock is ticking for activists trying to change a city ordinanc in Atlantic Beach. They say the voters should make the decision about a discrimination ban, NOT the city.

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. -

A group of community members is trying to change a city ordinance that recently passed in Atlantic Beach.

Many are upset about a new addition to the human rights ordinance commissioners passed last month that specifically bans discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

A group of volunteers have been out all weekend gathering signatures and holding signs asking for another look at the new ordinance. They don't think it's fair for the citizens.

Their petition needs 2,305 signatures by 5 p.m. Tuesday to give voters a chance to decide.

"The deeper you look at it, it is anti-business and it is anti-church," said Don Peters, who wants a referendum. "And the burden lies on the citizens and the taxpayers to make this a reality."

After nearly a year of debate, commissioners approved the ordinance, which is now in effect. It says no one can discriminate against members of the LGBT community for jobs, homes or other opportunities. Violators can be fined or sued.

But one commissioner wants leaders to overturn it.

"I am absolutely opposed to it," Commissioner Jonathan Daugherty said. "I've had numerous citizens come and call me, come to my house, basically saying that this is imposing on their religious freedom, it is in prosing on their property rights. I've had business owners call me and say I won't move the business to Atlantic Beach if this passes because it opens me up to litigation."

But the groups who brought the legislation to the small beach town and the commissioner who introduced it call it the right thing to do.

"I think a lot of the arguments are based on fear and lack of knowledge, and frankly I think most of the people who oppose this, they believe it is a lifestyle choice and they don't support that particular lifestyle choice," Commissioner Maria Mark said. "And so this is giving rights to a select group of people that they believe, I think, may be infringing on their rights."

There is no word on how close the group is to getting enough signatures to get the referendum on the ballot, but many people say they are confident they will make their mark. The commission is set to discuss the issue at its next meeting on Sept. 8.

Several residents said there are no known issues of complaints about LGBT discrimination in the town, and that's why those who opposed the ordinance say it's not needed. They say the community is already very tolerant of everyone.