Over 1,300 Democrats gathered in South Florida for the annual Jefferson-Jackson conference, ready to kick off the 2014 campaign season. While no official policies or platforms were introduced, Rep. Darryl Rouson, State House Leader-designee, set a decisive tone in his speech to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community and came out publicly in favor of marriage equality for the first time.
"I have evolved on this issue," said Rouson in an interview after the event. "I have been listening to my constituents and to other members of the LGBT community, but the turning point came when I attended an Equality Florida event."
Equality Florida is a statewide advocacy organization dedicated to ending discrimination and securing equal rights for the LGBT community.
Rouson described listening to a speech by a colleague who described the difficulties and hardships of being discriminated against as a gay man. "His pain was so real...and so unnecessary. Why should anyone be treated differently because of who they love? Because of who they are? I finally got it - this is the civil rights movement of our day."
Rouson acknowledged that there will be people in his community that will be unhappy that he is embracing the marriage equality issue, particularly for religious concerns. However, Rouson says he welcomes the discussion. "I am not a theologian, so I cannot speak to the religious aspects of this issue. I am also not a scientist so I won't speak to the genetics of this issue. But I will defend love. I will defend people's right to love who they choose and to be proud of that love."
Nadine Smith, Executive Director of Equality Florida, stated, "Representative Rouson has shown time and time again his willingness to listen and have empathy for those harmed by discrimination. His leadership on this issue is in line with the evolving sentiment of Florida voters who now support equal access to marriage for gay couples."
When giving his speech, Rouson paraphrased Harvey Milk by saying, "It is not a compromise to give individuals their rights."
Shawna Vercher is a political strategist and Florida political correspondent. She is also the Executive Director of the Move Florida Forward movement. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/shawnavercher.