A Day of Reckoning

During the commission meeting, each side was given about 90 minutes to present speakers. Based on a coin toss, members of the Christian Coalition went first. Every one of their speakers invoked religious doctrine to argue against the ordinance. They talked about gays as sinners and immoral people looking to corrupt children. One woman provided a graphic explanation of how "sodomy breaks down the muscles of the rectum, used basically for the discharge of bodily waste." Another rather serious fellow declared that he was not going to "swallow" the gay lifestyle, a comment that elicited snickers from a group of lobbyists prowling around the rear of the chambers.

The Christian Coalition's speakers were sanctimonious and hateful. "I was really unimpressed with their presentation," Moss says dismissively. "It was the same rhetoric I had heard before. But I was impressed with some of the people who came forward in support of the issue."

In contrast, SAVE Dade, the organization that worked to pass the ordinance, assembled a wide range of speakers. The one thing they had in common was their confidence that the choice between right and wrong was evident for anyone to see. Art Teitelbaum, Southern area director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League, argued that gays are often the target of discrimination and that "such discrimination is a poison in the bloodstream of our community and as such threatens all of us."

He warned commissioners that if they voted against the ordinance, they would send a dangerous message. "Those who engage in discrimination always look for signs of acceptance," Teitelbaum said. "Once believing they have approval, their behavior inevitably spreads and accelerates. You have the opportunity to do the opposite today."

T. Willard Fair, president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, said he regretted that his presence before the commission was even necessary. "I'm sorry I'm here," he said, "because it is unbecoming of the city I love so dearly to have to publicly debate about doing right." Later he added, "If we do not do what is right here today, then we undo all the things we have done that were right in the past. We cannot be neutral on this issue and we cannot be inconsistent about what is right for all citizens of this county."

Fair allowed that he was aware the commission often dealt with issues in a political context. But this was not about politics, he stressed: "When the final vote is cast, will you be able to look within your own souls once again and say, I have done what is right. Maybe not what is popular, but what is right. Maybe not what they thought I should have done, but what is right. I simply suggest to you that we have to do what is right."

Teitelbaum and Fair were followed by a stellar cast that included prominent attorneys H.T. Smith, George Knox, and Mikki Canton; Miami Beach Mayor Neisen Kasdin and Beach Commissioner Nancy Liebman; Adora Obi Nweze, president of the local NAACP; and Miami Herald chairman Dave Lawrence. As they spoke, plainly and persuasively, Moss made up his mind to vote in favor of the ordinance and began jotting down notes about what he would say.

When the public hearing finally concluded, several commissioners, including Barbara Carey and Jimmy Morales, spoke passionately in support of the measure. Sorenson attacked the Christian Coalition for their intolerance. "Oppression in the name of religion is a time-honored tradition," she declared. "What we have here today is not merely a philosophical difference in which reasonable people can disagree. Leadership demands that we transcend the superstitions, the hyperbole, the distortions based on religion, and consider the cancer of discrimination in our community."

Sorenson also had one of the best lines of the day when she chided those who claimed that sexual orientation was a choice or a lifestyle. "We have heard many people today say that homosexuality is not an immutable characteristic, that people chose to be gay," she said. "I can only ask those of you who consider yourself heterosexual, did you choose to be heterosexual? And if you had to choose it, are you sure you are heterosexual?"

Commission Chairwoman Gwen Margolis, another supporter of the ordinance, asked directly: "What is the big deal? What is the big deal?" Margolis then requested a roll-call vote.

The first name called, in alphabetical order, was Miriam Alonso. When she voted no, an audible gasp rose from the room; many ordinance supporters thought she was the swing vote. But a short time later, when the clerk called out Moss's name and he leaned forward in his chair to speak, the commission chambers fell silent.

"Let me just say," Moss began, "that discrimination is discrimination no matter where you find it. I want to put on the record that the experience of African-Americans is not the same experience as the gay community as it relates to discrimination, and I reject the comparisons that have been made. Certainly the gay community has not experienced the kind of insidious, inhuman, institutional racism and discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and employment that African-Americans have experienced. But having said that, I believe that discrimination is discrimination, no matter where it exists. This particular ordinance goes a long way toward addressing the issue. My vote is yes."

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