It's been less than a year since Jacksonville's City Council approved an anti-discrimination ordinance that protected the LGBTQ community.
But those protections could be undone by a bill at the state level.
Introduced by Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant, House Bill 871 would allow businesses to set policies according to religious beliefs, free from government interference. In short, what is done in the guise of religious liberty could not be penalized or prohibited.
“It's frightening for those of us who care about civil liberties,” says Jimmy Midyette, a Jacksonville attorney and an LGBT activist. “It's insidious.”
Midyette worked to pass the city's Human Right Ordinance, but says that work could be undone by House Bill 871.
“It's a pretext," he says. "What this law does is creates a pretext for every person to discriminate against any person at any time. It's a license to discriminate."
Fant did not return calls for comment Friday. But in series of Tweets, he cited the recent Supreme Court case brought by a Colorado baker as his reason for filing the bill.
“In Florida, we're not gonna sit around and leave liberty up to dispute,” he tweeted, adding that he filed the bill “so business owners don't have to live in fear of social justice zealots.”
The bill is currently assigned to three committees, which could slow it down. So could the fact that it's an election year, when lawmakers are less likely to tackle nonessential and controversial bills.
Fant, in addition to being a state representative, is also running for Florida Attorney General.
“I believe Representative Fant senses a moment here,” says Midyette. While the cake debate grew out of concerns over same sex marriage, he says the bill could affect a much broader universe of people.
“There are 'legitimate' religions in this country that are opposed to interracial marriage,” he notes, “mostly within the white supremacy movement.”
Should those groups invoke the bill's protections, Midyette says, their businesses – no matter what they do or serve -- would be allowed to discriminate against mixed raced couples.
“That's the ultimate danger with a law like this,” he says. “It's not limited to the LGBT community. This could be their way to essentially reintroduce Jim Crow.”