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Business leaders to support Miami-Dade gay rights law

Fearful of economic repercussions if the county's gay-rights law is repealed in September, a multicultural coalition of Miami-Dade County business leaders will announce support today for the embattled ordinance.

Calling it "a discrimination issue," more than a dozen local business organizations will hold a fundraiser for SAVE Dade, the political group defending the law, next Wednesday. Tickets are $250 and $500.

"Not only are we urging that this (repeal) measure be defeated, but that it be defeated by a substantial margin so that there's a clear message of tolerance sent to the outside world," said Jack Lowell, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Lowell said "it's a little unusual" for a group of prominent business leaders to rally behind an issue such as gay rights.

"This is as controversial as it gets," said Lowell. "This particular issue for us has been very controversial in the past, and as a result has gotten us a lot of publicity."

Singer Anita Bryant got worldwide publicity 25 years ago when she campaigned to repeal a similar Miami-Dade law. Voters in 1977 did so, by a 2-1 ratio.

In 1998, the Miami-Dade County Commission added sexual orientation as a protected class in the county's human rights ordinance. Voters will be asked on Sept. 10 whether to repeal that portion of the law.

Business leaders are concerned that Miami-Dade will be viewed as a narrow-minded community if the law is repealed, said Peter Roulhac, chairman-elect of the Greater Miami Chamber.

"This is clearly a burning issue," he said. "The other side is portraying this as a lifestyle issue. We are portraying it, and rightly so, as a discrimination issue."

Some business leaders fear boycotts or other negative economic impacts in Miami-Dade if the law is repealed.

"Already we are hearing some rumblings from the Democratic National Committee that they would have to take a second look at Miami-Dade as a 2004 convention site if this ordinance is repealed," Roulhac said.

Eladio Jose Armesto, spokesman for Take Back Miami-Dade, the group leading the repeal effort, called the business leaders "cowards" for worrying about boycotts.

"I don't think any sane person would really believe that the repeal of the sexual orientation amendment would bring about a boycott," Armesto said. "What they are fearing is blackmail. That's why they're acting in this irresponsible manner, these so-called representatives of business."

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