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Group aims to defend equal rights for gays

Gay rights supporters have launched a campaign to preserve Miami-Dade County's ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation.

A Sept. 10 referendum will ask voters whether they want to repeal a 1998 law that makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing and public accommodation based on sexual orientation.

More than 59,000 signatures were collected to get the measure on the ballot.

"Gay rights is a no-brainer today to most people, but in those days, we were charting new paths," said Ruth Shack, a former county commissioner who spoke at Sunday's kickoff to defeat the referendum.

Organizers hope to raise $1.4-million and recruit 1,000 volunteers for an advertising and door-to-door campaign, according to SAVE Dade, the lead organization for equal rights for gay people.

Eladio Jose Armesto, communications director for the referendum support group Take Back Miami-Dade, said county residents would remain "pro-family."

"The citizens of Miami-Dade see through the deception and lies of homosexualist extremists that somehow their sexual behavior requires special protection," Armesto said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill to head an investigation of the referendum.

SAVE Dade is challenging signatures on the petitions that placed the referendum on the ballot.

Hill is replacing Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who received a $500 campaign donation and endorsement from SAVE Dade two years ago.