Legal Challenge To Anti-Gay Initiative Moves Forward

Case Involving Miami-Dade Anti-Discrimination Ordinance to Proceed

A lawsuit challenging the petition submitted by Take Back Miami-Dade will proceed in the wake of last Thursday’s decision by Judge Norman S. Gerstein of Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court. Judge Gerstein denied the group’s motion to dismiss the suit. Take Back filed the petition in December 2000 seeking to overturn that portion of the Miami-Dade County Human Rights Ordinance prohibiting discrimination against gay men and lesbians. The issue is currently scheduled to be placed before voters in a September 10 referendum.

The lawsuit filed by the community group SAVE Dade charges that sponsors of the anti-gay petition drive did not comply with the requirements of Florida law and that the petition was improperly certified by the Miami-Dade County Supervisor of Elections. In particular, SAVE Dade’s suit asserts that Take Back’s petitions are riddled with irregularities and evidence of fraud. SAVE Dade has asked the court either to reject the petition in its entirety or to require a signature-by-signature review of only those petition pages that are in compliance with state and county law.

In his decision denying the motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Judge Gerstein gave Take Back 10 days to answer SAVE Dade’s complaint. The lawsuit was filed in December on behalf of SAVE Dade by Ben Kuehne of the law firm Sale & Kuehne, SAVE Dade general counsel Alicia Apfel, and Elliot M. Mincberg and Judith E. Schaeffer of People For the American Way (PFAW).

Jorge Mursuli, PFAW Florida director, lauded the state court’s action.

"Take Back’s effort to overturn the gay rights amendment to Miami-Dade’s human rights ordinance rests on numerous petition signatures and pages that we feel do not comply with state and county law. By denying this motion, the court has enabled the important issues being raised about this petition to be heard," Mursuli said.

Heddy Peña, chair of SAVE Dade, said, "We are pleased that our case can go forward to bring to light the scope of serious irregularities and evidence of fraud in Take Back’s petition process."

The Miami-Dade County Commission amended the county’s human rights ordinance in 1998 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, financing and public accommodations. The commission’s action came two decades after Anita Bryant led a successful effort to repeal the county’s first gay rights ordinance.

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