Petition Gatherers Violated Florida Law, Lawsuit Charges; PFAW, SAVE Dade Leaders Vow to Work on Two Fronts to Advance Equality
Attorneys for SAVE Dade today are filing a lawsuit in state court challenging the Dec. 18 decision by Miami-Dade County officials to certify petitions calling for a referendum on a provision of the county’s human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination against gay men and lesbians. The lawsuit, which charges that leaders of the petition drive did not comply with the requirements of Florida law, is being filed on behalf of SAVE Dade by Ben Kuehne of the law firm Sale & Kuehne, SAVE Dade general counsel Alicia Apfel, and attorneys with People For the American Way (PFAW).
The decision to certify the petitions as requiring a referendum was based on a review of only 1,500 randomly chosen signatures out of about 51,000 signatures that were collected by the group Take Back Miami-Dade. The review by Miami-Dade election officials, the lawsuit contends, did not fully assess whether petition signatures had been properly collected and notarized in compliance with Florida law, whether petition signatures had been forged, or whether other irregularities violated the integrity of the process and governing law. Even under the random sampling conducted by the county, 27 percent of the 1,500 sampled signatures—at least one in four—were declared invalid.
“We are supporting this lawsuit because we believe that Florida law must be upheld and the integrity of the petition and referendum process must be protected,” said PFAW President Ralph G. Neas. “While we believe there is a strong legal case for challenging the county’s certification of these petitions, we are committed to working with SAVE Dade to lay the groundwork for a successful campaign that will uphold the human rights ordinance in the event of a voter referendum next September.”
Speaking on behalf of SAVE Dade’s board of directors, chairwoman Heddy Peña said, “As the legal challenge moves forward, so will our efforts to build a broad-based coalition to defeat any countywide repeal effort in the fall.”
“A small group of people want to turn back the clock to 1977, when Anita Bryant led a campaign of fear and intolerance that made it legal to discriminate against gay people,” said Jorge Mursuli, who is Florida director for PFAW and former executive director of SAVE Dade. “We, the residents of Miami-Dade, aren’t going to permit the progress of nearly a quarter century to be thrown away by those who wish to divide us.”
In 1998, two decades after the successful effort led by Anita Bryant to repeal an anti-discrimination provision, the Miami-Dade County Commission again approved an amendment to the county’s human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in employment, housing, financing and public accommodations.