When the Hillsborough County Commission adopted a human rights ordinance that prohibited discrimination against gays in 1991, 3,000 residents attended the tumultuous meeting.
Four years later, when commissioners voted to exclude gay people from the ordinance’s protections, more than 500 people attended the hearings at the Florida State Fairgrounds’ Expo Hall.
There may be some controversy, but things are likely to be much calmer today when Commissioner Kevin Beckner intends to propose an amendment reversing that 1995 vote.
According to Tribune Staff Writer Mike Salinero, it appears Beckner has at least the four votes he needs.
Still, it is impossible to forget that just last year the commission failed by a 4-3 vote to approve Commissioner Mark Sharpe’s reasonable proposal to establish a domestic partnership registry.
Without question, social attitudes on the issue are rapidly changing. The young, especially, are far more tolerant of different lifestyles.
But we suspect something else is involved as well.
Many individuals who still may have religious objections to homosexuality have become more discerning about their views.
They now see discrimination in the workplace, housing and business transactions as the injustice that it is.
Moreover, scores of communities, including Tampa, have offered discrimination protections for gays for years without suffering the moral decline that critics invariably predict.
Indeed, treating all citizens fairly and with respect is simply good public policy. It is also good for business.
Companies are not going to locate to a community where some employees might be treated as second-class citizens.
Back when the county abandoned its discrimination protections for gays, there also was a push for the city of Tampa to do the same.
But city leaders wisely kept their ordinance intact, in part because of the opposition of the business community.
This can be a difficult issue, and commissioners’ personal beliefs should be respected. But Hillsborough County policy should demand equal treatment for all.