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1Gay group, church find compromise Ordinance excludes religious institutions

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  • tcjackson
    Oct 23, 1998
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      Gay group, church find compromise Published Friday, October
      23, 1998, in the Miami Herald

      Gay group, church find compromise Ordinance excludes religious
      institutions

      By LIZ DOUP
      Herald Staff Writer

      Leaders of a South Florida gay rights group and the Archdiocese of Miami
      have agreed on new language for a proposed ordinance that would prohibit
      discrimination against gay men and lesbian women, according to both
      organizations.

      The new language exempts religious organizations and affiliated groups,
      such as schools and social service organizations, from the demands of the
      ordinance. Supporters hope the new wording will convince the Miami-Dade
      Commission to enact it.

      ``I think it will pass,'' said Jorge Mursuli, a security company executive
      and chairman of SAVE Dade, the organization behind the proposed ordinance.
      ``And when that happens, I'll feel more rooted in my hometown.''

      Over the past few months, lawyers for the Archdiocese and SAVE Dade have
      sought language that both could accept. The original proposal would have
      banned discrimination against gay men and lesbian women in housing,
      employment, finance and public accommodations.

      The archdiocese wanted exemptions in all areas for religious groups. A
      religious school, for example, would not be forced to hire a gay teacher.

      ``This doesn't mean we endorse'' the proposal, Archdiocese Auxiliary Bishop
      Thomas Wenski said. ``It means we won't have to fight it. If that language
      wasn't in it, we'd have to oppose it.

      ``Our concerns [before the exemption] were whether it would interfere in
      the operation of our religious beliefs.''

      SAVE Dade, which received a draft of the new language from the archdiocese
      last week, doesn't see the exemption as compromising the supporters'
      position.

      ``They felt more comfortable with the language included, and it posed no
      threat to us,'' Mursuli said. ``Our intent was never to affect anyone's
      religious beliefs.''

      Supporters have been trying to add protection for gay men and lesbians to
      Dade's civil rights ordinance for the past year and a half.

      They point to the recent beating death of a gay college student in Wyoming
      to emphasize the need for legal protection. Broward County passed such an
      ordinance in 1995.

      Still, the new language is no guarantee that the ordinance will pass.

      ``Maybe it will change votes, maybe it won't,'' Wenski said. ``It's still
      up to the proponents to prove there's a need for the ordinance.''

      To win, supporters need seven votes on the 13-member commission. Six
      commissioners have voiced support -- Bruno Barreiro, Barbara Carey, Betty
      Ferguson, Gwen Margolis, Jimmy Morales and Katy Sorenson.

      Six others teamed up to defeat a similar measure last year -- Miriam
      Alonso, Natacha Millan, Dennis Moss, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Pedro
      Reboredo and Javier Souto.

      That leaves Commissioner Dorrin Rolle, a political newcomer who took office
      in March, replacing James Burke.

      Whether the new language changes the minds of any of the six opponents
      remains to be seen.

      ``We haven't seen any new draft of that ordinance,'' said Bernardo Escobar,
      chief of staff for Souto. ``We'd have to see it before we would comment on
      it.''

      But Sorenson, sponsor of the newest effort, is encouraged.

      ``I'm hopeful,'' said Sorenson, who said she's pleased with the new
      language. ``I believe in the goodness of people, and I think this will
      encourage other Christian groups to get behind it.''

      SAVE Dade plans to immediately inform commission members about the language
      changes. Sorenson hopes to bring the matter before the commission at its
      Nov. 5 meeting.

      Similarly worded ordinances are in effect in about 150 cities and counties
      nationwide, according to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Nearly 40
      percent have language that exempts religious organizations.

      ``In areas where the Catholic Church is very powerful, it helps to have the
      church not fight against it,'' says Tracey Conaty, communications director
      for the task force.

      Mursuli is hopeful.

      ``This ordinance won't wipe out discrimination,'' he said. ``But it will
      make it more difficult, and it will send a message to the community.''

      Herald staff writer Liz Doup can be reached by e-mail at edoup@...