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'Bill of Rights' quietly added to Miami ballot

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, [email protected]

Miami voters are being asked Jan. 29 to approve a 'Citizens' Bill of Rights'' that would, among other things, promote religious freedom, clean air and scenic beauty.

It would also ban discrimination on the basis of domestic relationship status, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression -- though relatively few people are aware of it.

The proposed city charter change hasn't drawn much attention. The actual ballot wording never mentions gay or transgender rights. On Monday, even some leading gay and Christian activists didn't know anything about it.

''I'm shocked,'' said Ron Brenesky, a co-founder of Unity Coalition, one of Miami-Dade County's leading Hispanic gay-rights groups. ``I commend the city for trying to do this. I commend the spirit, but not the method. We should have been aware. At least we would have gotten our people out to vote.''

'NO' VOTE

Anthony Verdugo, executive director of Miami-Dade's Christian Family Coalition, said that if he had known about the charter amendment, he'd have urged supporters to vote no. ''Obviously, we would not be in support of it,'' Verdugo said.

Heddy Peña, executive director of SAVE, Miami-Dade County's largest gay-rights group, said her organization has been sending out e-mails urging supporters to vote yes.

''We've been trying not to call special attention so that it becomes highly politicized,'' Peña said. ``You politicize it and you have a fight on your hands.''

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff first proposed the bill of rights shortly after being elected in Nov. 2006.

''I just think this is good government,'' he said. ``Sound, good government for everyone.''

Sarnoff proposed a charter change on May 10, a move seconded by Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones and passed by Commissioners Tomás Regalado and Joe Sanchez. Commissioner Angel Gonzalez was absent.

With little discussion, the final resolution passed Oct. 25 on a 3-0 vote. Gonzalez and Spence-Jones were absent.

''It will be a way for us to create further ordinances for green space, open space and quality of life issues because the citizens of Miami will be making a statement that view corridors and scenic beauty are important to them,'' Sarnoff says. ``It would bring a modern approach to people's rights in the city of Miami, including sexual preference and gender identification as classifications that are rights that will be upheld in the city of Miami.''

Peña said SAVE helped Sarnoff craft the language ``to make sure it was truly inclusive and would protect all people from discrimination.''

In 1999, SAVE helped pass a similar ordinance in Miami-Dade County. Opponents petitioned and voters narrowly upheld the law in 2002.

The Miami-Dade ordinance doesn't include gender identity and expression. Broward County's ordinance, passed in 1995, doesn't include it, either, but commissioners there are toying with the idea.

Palm Beach and Monroe counties and the cities of Wilton Manors, Oakland Park, Miami Beach and Key West have added transgender protections to their gay-rights ordinances.

STANDARDS OF RESPECT

''All across Florida, we're seeing more and more cities recognize the value of policies that set forth strong standards of respect,'' said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida, the state's largest gay-rights group. ``It's great to see Miami take its rightful place as a leader in diversity.''

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Gays and lesbians should be pittied because they are being harried by an evil spirit. To give their problem legal protection would be deleterious to society. They should resist their tormentor.

Why does gayness need special leglal status. Aren't we all equal under the law already?

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