This Florida Republican flipped vote on protections for LGBTQ people

The Equality Act passed the House of Representatives Thursday on a 224-206 vote, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to vote for the bill.
Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart.
Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart. [ PEDRO PORTAL | Miami Herald ]
Published Feb. 26, 2021|Updated Feb. 26, 2021

WASHINGTON — After voting in 2019 to expand federal protections for LGBTQ people, Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart changed his position on Thursday.

Diaz-Balart voted against the Equality Act, a bill that would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation by amending the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to explicitly include new protections. He was one of eight Republicans to vote in favor of the bill two years ago.

The Equality Act passed the House of Representatives Thursday on a 224-206 vote, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to vote for the bill. None were from Florida.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart said he changed his position because House Democrats did not amend the bill to protect individuals, religious organizations and medical professionals who object to LGBTQ rights based on their religious beliefs.

“I have always fought against discrimination in all its forms, which is why I voted for this bill last Congress and outlined some severe flaws that needed to be addressed to obtain bipartisan support,” Diaz-Balart said in a statement. “House Democratic leadership had ample time to make these changes, but sadly, they ignored multiple good faith efforts by my colleagues and instead doubled down on some of the most troubling issues, including sabotaging religious freedom.”

The vote is the latest evidence of Miami’s House Republicans taking more conservative policy positions after former President Donald Trump’s strong 2020 performance in Miami-Dade County.

Miami Republican Reps. Carlos Gimenez and Maria Elvira Salazar also voted against the Equality Act, a departure from their South Florida GOP predecessors. Former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the first Republican to support same-sex marriage, co-sponsored the Equality Act while in office.

Ros-Lehtinen and former Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo were also among 31 Republicans who signed onto a Supreme Court brief in 2019 urging the court to rule that the Civil Rights Act prevents someone from being fired due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2020, the court ruled in Ros-Lehtinen and Curbelo’s favor in a 6-3 decision authored by Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump.

Curbelo and Ros-Lehtinen didn’t vote on the Equality Act while in Congress, as the House of Representatives at the time was controlled by Republicans who mostly oppose the legislation.

All 11 Florida House Democrats, including Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Kathy Castor of Tampa, voted for the bill. All 16 Florida House Republicans, including Gus Bilirakis of Palm Harbor, Vern Buchanan of Sarasota and Scott Franklin of Lakeland, voted against.

The Equality Act’s future in Congress this year isn’t entirely clear, as at least 10 Senate Republicans would need to vote for it in a 50-50 split chamber narrowly controlled by Democrats. President Joe Biden campaigned on the bill and said it would be a priority of his first months in office.

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“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” said Alphonso David, president of Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy groups. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”

At the state level, Florida protects against discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment but does not prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.