EXCLUSIVE: Pastor calls proposed Jacksonville HRO an SPO 'Special Privilege Ordinance'

by Joni B. Hannigan , Editorial Staff |

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Christian Examiner) – Jacksonville does not need a human rights ordinance protecting gays and lesbians according to its mayor and the pastor of one of the largest churches in town.

Mayor Lenny Curry and Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, have said the only large city in the nation that has not enacted specific protections for gay, lesbian and transgendered people has no need of such a law.

Advocates of legislation for years have pressured the City Council to expand its Human Rights Ordinance by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The New York Times reports more than 200 cities and 17 states have ordinances barring discrimination – to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

The northern Florida city – with a Southern flair and deeply imbedded traditionalism – has withstood several attempts to pass such an ordinance, the most recent in the summer of 2012.

Mayor Lenny Curry said in a Jan. 29 letter to City of Jacksonville employees that he remains committed to "honor and respect every individuals life, liberty, and opportunity to pursue happiness."

After three community meetings, however, and numerous meet-ups with various civic, faith, and community leaders in various venues – Curry said he doubted legislation would be "prudent," but that he will continue to keep an eye on violent crime and "crippling pension debt."

The newest action comes on the heels of a move by voters in Houston to overwhelmingly repeal by 61-30 percent a Human Rights Ordinance, referred to as a "bathroom bill," that would have allowed men to use women's public accommodations.

PASTOR WEIGHS IN

Brunson, who has encouraged church members to be informed, told Christian Examiner in an exclusive interview, "the HRO is totally and completely unnecessary."

The pastor said despite a campaign apparently designed to promote the idea that those in the LGBT community are being discriminated against, no one has produced any.

"It is simply a way for those in that community to have a rallying point and a cause," Brunson said.

The charges of discrimination, he said, are meant to "incite" the LGBT community to action.

Nonetheless, Brunson said there are those in Jacksonville who act in ways that are not reflective of the community at large.

"I realize that there are individuals here or there who are unchristian and unkind to them because of their lifestyle choice," Brunson said, but denied it is a situation which requires more specific action.

"There are enough civil laws on the books to take care of any and every legitimate issue," Brunson said.

Calling the Human Rights Ordinance (HRO) a "Special Privilege Ordinance (SPO)," Brunson said it opens the door for individuals to want to obtain "special privileges" a number of "fill in the blank" situations.

Brunson said he believes everyone should have the freedom to exercise their beliefs – just like when Baptist Hospital and other companies enacted LGBT policies.

"Now, however, the CEO of Baptist who enjoyed that freedom wants to determine that everyone else in the city of Jacksonville must enact the same policy," Brunson said.

If an HRO passes in Jacksonville, Brunson said he fears the demands will become burdensome.

"The dangers here are innumerable and will be staggering for the rest of the city, and make no mistake the counsel members pushing this are laying the ground work for never ending lawsuits and additional legislation," Brunson said.

Further, Brunson said, legislation in the form of an HRO wouldn't be enough to erase the real issue.

"An HRO would never solve the perceived persecution and the sense of rejection those in the LGBT community struggle with," Brunson said. "The fact is, their struggle is not with those who live a different lifestyle, their struggle is within themselves."

The next Jacksonville City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 9.