Top 5 Florida news stories of 2013

Free Kate: maybe?
It wasn’t the story with the biggest impact. It didn’t really advance or repress LGBT rights and many readers argued that it shouldn’t be new at all. But that doesn’t change the fact that Katlyn Hunt’s arrest, visits to jail and eventual plea deal captivated the nation and sparked debate about statutory law. Hunt was in trouble for having sex with a 14-year-old schoolmate when she was 18. The younger girl’s parents turned Hunt in, and Hunt’s father alleged that their motivations were anti-gay. An initial plea deal was withdrawn when it turned out Hunt and the girl continued to contact each other after Hunt’s arrest. In the end, Hunt pleaded no contest to battery, interference with child custody and contributing to the dependency of a child. Her attorney stated that Hunt’s goal is to change the law so that teens attending the same school can’t be prosecuted for having sexual relationships, regardless of sexual orientation.

Statewide domestic partner registry fails
The Family First Bill survived about five months before it died in committee. The bill was filed in January by Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood), and cleared the Florida Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs by a 5 to 4 vote on April 1.  Before it died in the Judiciary Committee in May, it survived a rewrite, a key supporting Senator unable to vote because she was taken to the hospital (she’s ok), and a long, strange speech by notorious anti-gay pundit John Stemberger, who warned the bill would set a precedent for marriage equality and claimed that marriage rates fall in areas with domestic partner registries, but was unable to summon any proof when pressed on his claim. Maybe the idea will have better luck in 2014.
Rubio goes full-on anti-gay
Presidential hopeful Sen. Marco Rubio figured out a surefire way to generate headlines in 2013 say a bunch of bigoted stuff in front of reporters. In June, he threatened to pull his support from the immigration bill he co-authored if an amendment passed that allows gay unauthorized immigrants to apply with same-sex partners as family. The next day, he declared that it shouldn’t be illegal to fire someone for being gay. The next week, LGBT activists protested with a sit-in in Rubio’s office and three of them were led away in handcuffs. In September, Rubio blocked the appointment of William Thomas, who would have been the first openly gay judge to the federal bench in South Florida despite the fact that Rubio supported the initial nomination less than a year ago. What new and creative anti-gay moves will Rubio make in 2014?

Competitive Workforce Act filed twice
Florida legislators Rep. Joe Saunders (D-Orlando) and Rep. Holly Raschein (R-Key Largo) crossed party lines not once but twice this year to file the Competitive Workforce Act, which “prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression; defines terms; provides exceptions for constitutionally protected free exercise of religion,” according to the bill’s language. A version of the bill has been introduced in some form every legislative session since 2007, but it has always died in committee, as did the version filed in February 2013. Saunders is optimistic for the latest version of the bill’s chances in the 2014 session, saying “starting the year with seven Republican co-sponsors really helps.”

More support for marriage equality
The Sunshine State came out for marriage equality stronger than ever before in 2013. A poll released in March showed 75% of Floridians are in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and two prominent politicians Sen. Bill Nelson and former Governor Charlie Crist went on record as supporting marriage equality. Crist represented a turnabout on the issue. In 2010, he expressed opposition to marriage equality but changed his tune with a Facebook post in May of this year.”I most certainly support marriage equality in Florida and look forward to the day it happens here.”

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