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David Caton's witch hunt

With each hateful step on his march to stamp out gay rights, Tampa extremist David Caton's actions become more despicable. That's saying something.

Caton is director of the Florida chapter of the American Family Association, an organization whose apple-pie name belies its repugnant mission. Under the guise of moral crusaders, Caton and his troops parlayed absurd, fear-mongering claims about homosexuals into a repeal of a Tampa city ordinance that prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Not content with such regional victories, he is now taking on all of Florida, pushing for an amendment to the state constitution that would repeal any existing gay rights ordinances and prohibit further protections. Along the way, he has performed such intimidating stunts as contacting the employer of an AIDS activist in Tampa, threatening a boycott of the business and suggesting wrongly that the employee was copying literature for his activist group on company time.

As Caton tries to convince 430,000 Floridians to sign a petition endorsing the amendment to get the issue on the 1994 ballot, he has become a loose cannon rivaling Sen. Joseph McCarthy. His latest gay-baiting targets homosexuals who work for the state of Florida. The first victim is Jeff Peters, an assistant attorney general who is also the volunteer chairman of Floridians Respect Everyone's Rights, a political action committee that is fighting Caton's petition drive. Caton called for Peters' resignation, saying that such involvement is a conflict of interest because Peters' boss, Attorney General Bob Butterworth, reviews proposed constitutional amendments before they go on the ballot. Caton also criticized bonuses Peters received for his articles on AIDS and hate crimes published in scholarly journals, and questioned phone calls Peters made on his state credit card from what Caton calls "homosexual hotbeds" such as San Francisco.

Butterworth has rightly defended Peters, who is one of more than 230 lawyers in the Department of Legal Affairs and who has nothing to do with the division that handles constitutional amendments. All lawyers in the office are eligible for such bonuses as incentives to get their work published. The calls Peters made were to his office to check for messages while he was on vacation.

It should go without saying that what Peters does on his own time is his business. What David Caton continues to do _ spreading his cheap campaign of intolerance _ is reprehensible.