Miami Referendum Threatens Gay Rights; Christian Coalition Leader Arrested

Conservative Christian groups who are against gay rights in Miami-Dade County have placed a referendum on Tuesday’s ballot that would repeal an ordinance protecting lesbians and gay men from discrimination in such areas as housing and employment. The referendum was approved to go on the ballot despite the fact that several members of the religious groups who organized a petition drive to obtain the referendum, including Antonio Verdugo, head of the Miami-Dade Christian Coalition, were arrested for electoral fraud. Two supporters of the repeal have been charged with falsely witnessing petition signatures, and two others are charged with illegally notarizing their own signatures, according to the New York Times. In addition, the county election chief expressed concerns about the referendum and a civil lawsuit was filed claiming widespread fraud, according to the Miami Herald.

In 1977, Miami-Dade County became one of the first in the country to establish an ordinance against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. That ordinance was repealed after a campaign by former Miss America Anita Bryant, who called it an attempt to bolster “a perverse and dangerous way of life,” according to the Times. However, in 1998, in the wake of the brutal killing of Wyoming gay college student Matthew Shepard, another ordinance was approved by voters very similar to the one established in 1977.

While the Christian Right has mounted an effort to repeal this latest version, this time lesbian and gay rights have the support of much of the city as well as city leaders, according to the Times. A poll conducted by the Miami Herald and MSNBC found that opposition to the repeal was strong across all ethnic and racial groups. In addition, Mayor Alex Penelas has recorded a phone message to be played to residents of Miami-Dade urging them to vote against the repeal and he is backed by hundreds of business, civic, community, and religious leaders in Miami, including singer Gloria Estefan, according to the Times.

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New York Times 9/5/02; The Miami Herald 9/4/02

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