That's because three of the four Republicans whose votes were in question before the meeting — Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman and Victor Crist — tried to make it clear, through proposed amendments or future policy discussions, that a vote against the policy was not a vote to fund gay pride rallies or similar events in the future.
Crist said that events like the ribald Fantasy Fest held annually in Key West would create "feuds" in Hillsborough, a much more socially conservative county, and therefore he needed some "comfort" that such events wouldn't be promoted or paid for by the county.
"Parading around in lingerie, pasties, G-Strings, and outfits that promote your sexual organs is not necessarily an appropriate thing to do in Hillsborough County, even though it's appropriate in Key West," said Crist, who was interrupted in the middle of his sentence by LGBT activist Nadine Smith, who shouted out "That's Gasparilla!" while sitting in the back row at the County Center.
Crist then introduced a motion stating that that the county would abstain from sponsoring, promoting or participating in any event or program that included content that could be reasonably interpreted as being "obscene, pornographic or prurient in nature or display sexual conduct or information in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable prudent person of average sensitivity in the community." He added that the county wouldn't use funds to promote any lifestyle.
But Attorney Chip Fletcher, who helped provide the language to Crist for his motion, admitted that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that what is obscene is based on community standards, which are not fixed in place. The "you-know-it-when-you-see-it standard," he called it, acknowledging that attorneys "tend not to like that standard, but that's what's been accepted."
Commissioners all agreed, however, that they felt the policy was discriminatory, and discussion didn't last that long between them on that front. Al Higginbotham, who has voted against gay rights in the past, voted to repeal, but didn't say a word during the two-and-a-half-hour discussion. He runs countywide next year.
However, it was a much different story when it came to the public. Many people, mostly from eastern or southern Hillsborough, came before the board and trotted out the argument that they didn't want the county spending money on promoting gay issues or events. The first speaker at the dais, Travis Smith, compared gays to rapists and polygamists.
Pastor Tony Smart, an African-American, said it was a "fallacy" to compare the plight of blacks who were historically discriminated in this country with the gay experience. Later on, County Commissioner Les Miller responded to him by saying that he agreed with him to a certain extent, but he could not agree with his conclusion. "Hatred is hatred, bigotry is bigotry. Discrimination is discrimination and regardless, it is painful."
A large contingent from the LGBT community was also in attendance, many garbed in red in a show of solidarity that had been encouraged by an Equality Florida email. Several speakers, including Stonewall Democrats president Susan McGrath and Beckner himself, made a point of saying they were Christians, too, but reminded the room that it's the Constitution, not the Bible, which should govern the decisions of lawmakers. Perhaps the most pithy quote of the day from supporters of repeal: "The rest of the world is passing gay marriage, yet here in Hillsborough we're still arguing about a parade."
In recent days social conservatives like Terry Kemple and John Stemberger had issued talking points for those who supported retaining the ban. Commissioner Sandy Murman said that over 80 percent of the e-mails and phone calls she received related to funding. "I think it's important to say that repealing this policy does not mean that we are going to fund or pay for anything that we don't want to do as a board."
"I do believe we should repeal this policy to put the policy in line with everything else we do here at the county commission," Murman continued, to cheers from repeal advocates in the county center. But then she somewhat bizarrely admonished them, "Be careful what you ask for because this does not mean we're going to go out and start funding things," contradicting her previous comment and bringing up something that only the opponents — and not supporters of repeal — were suggesting.
Commission Chair Ken Hagan also agreed that the current policy was discriminatory, but he too wasn't content to vote on the issue up or down. "I personally do not believe it's the government's mission to fund or promote gay pride or gay-sponsored events," he said, agreeing that the proposal didn't mean the county would start doing so, but said that there was a concern that would be the case.
"While this is not true, I feel that we should make it crystal-clear to those who have concerns about this policy," Hagan added. Saying he agreed with Commissioner Crist, he then proposed his own amendment that stated that "consistent with how we treat other organizations or groups, any request to promote or fund gay pride initiatives will require BOCC approval."
Hagan insisted that his motion did not treat any group differently than any other group, but Beckner responded that it most certainly did.
"If I listened to what you just said, you just said, Mr. Chairman, from LGBT groups," Beckner said. "You didn't include African-Americans, you didn't include the Asian community, you singled out a group."
Hagan insisted that his amendment wasn't singling out gays, and asked Beckner if it made him more comfortable "we can add in any and all groups if you like."
That didn't satisfy him at all, though, as Beckner asked Hagan, "Why did you single out LGBT groups? Why would you just not leave that blank and say all groups?"
The original ban was passed in June of 2005 after some parents objected to a Gay Pride Month display at the West Gate Regional Library, which prompted then-commissioner Ronda Storms to call for the county to ban any support for gay pride events in Hillsborough County.
But trying to add fuel to his arguments today, Commissioner Crist claimed that display was "pornographic in nature and overly sexually explicit," prompting Beckner to say that it was his understanding that it was merely a display of gay authors. "I can't comment on the truthfulness of that," Beckner responded, "but from what I've heard today it's perhaps an exaggeration."
Commissioner Mark Sharpe remained silent for much of the discussion, but when given the floor paused dramatically, apparently fighting off tears in admitting he made a mistake in voting for the 2005 gay pride ban.
While saying he didn't want to support promoting lifestyles, Sharpe said he "never wanted to be part of any group that would single out others," and said he was glad he was still on the board to correct that mistake.
After the vote, Equality Florida's Nadine Smith hailed the leadership of Commissioner Beckner in the move to repeal the gay pride ban. "Finally this County Commission has been able to undo the damage done eight years ago," she said, as she and other gay rights activists hugged each other while exiting the County Center.
Commissioner Beckner said he wanted the county attorney to report back to the board on August 7 on the possibility of prohibiting a super-majority vote requirement for any board motion unless required by the County Charter.