Eddie, Equality Florida At Odds On Marriage

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The integrity of a Sarasota City Commissioner elected with the endorsement of Equality Florida came under fire this week after she said she was personally opposed to same-sex marriage. Shelli Freeland Eddie asked the gay rights organization to stop publicly listing her as a supporter of “marriage equality” on its website. “Because of my faith,” Eddie said in an email, “I should have not completed the survey responses the way I did, and I should not have accepted your endorsement.” 

Eddie was elected in May, unseating incumbent Stan Zimmerman. In March, she also defeated Matt Wooddall, who is gay. And in the run-up to the May elections, she also employed prominent campaign consultants with a history with the gay and lesbian community. Since sending her email to Equality Florida, the new commissioner has faced accusations of betraying those who helped her get elected, and even heard calls for her resignation, but she said it was important she be able to engage in honest dialogue about the issue. In an interview with SRQ, she said her views have not changed from when she filled out a questionnaire expressing support for the legal rights of all people. “I am also fighting for equal protection under the law for everyone,” she said. “But from a personal standpoint, decisions the court made are in personal contradiction with my faith.” Eddie also said she was personally pro-life, but maintained government should not restrict a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.

Equality Florida officials expressed shock at Eddie’s request. Shelli not only deceived the Equality Florida PAC with her answers on its candidate questionnaire,” said Ken Shelin, Equality Florida co-chair and a former Sarasota City Commissioner. “She deceived her campaign donors and she deceived the voters.” The issue seemed compounded as well by the fact the Sarasota Democratic Party had backed Eddie. Her victory helped ensure all five members of the Sarasota City Commission were registered Democrats.

“Call this Poster Child 35 on how Sarasota City Commission contests have no business being partisan exercises,” said Zimmerman, a registered Republican. Zimmerman did not fill out an Equality Florida candidate questionnaire, and as a practice did not seek support from political groups outside the city. But he said Wednesday that government had no right telling a couple whether they could not get married, and said it should not tell a woman what to do with her body. 

Wooddall did fill out a questionnaire, and the only area where Equality Florida reported he did not give an affirmative answer was on reproductive choice (Eddie was marked giving positive choices in all areas). Equality Florida only issued an endorsement for the May election, after Wooddall had been eliminated from the contest. Woodall said he knew throughout the campaign that Eddie held conservative views on social issues, but never saw that as an issue in the district. “But she didn’t mind taking services from the LGBT community,” he said. "It's diningenuous." Wooddall’s own candidacy imploded in March after consultants Keen Campaigning left his employ amid a financial disclosure scandal. Keen later moved to Eddie's campaign and advised her to May 12 victory over Zimmerman.

Keen officials in a statement stressed they remains “strong advocates for equality for the LGBT community.” But they also said they believed Eddie’s move this week offered a chance to further a conversation. “It might be an opportunity for Equality Florida to re-evaluate the way they ask questions as well,” said Andre Torkelson, Keen lead consultant. He said that while Eddie’s religion led her to voice feelings against same-sex marriage, he also believes her faith will make her willing to listen to other groups. Chris Hawes, Keen messaging specialist, ran a gay newspaper for three years before working at Keen and said Eddie’s statements to Equality Florida did hurt people, but suggested everyone in America right now needs to engage in a conversation on marriage equality and this move offered a chance to do so with Eddie.

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