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"He's like a broken record," Mursuli says. "He just chooses to ignore the facts. Tell him to go to the Miami-Dade Equal Employment Opportunity Board and pull up all the complaints. There's like 51 of them now. You don't have to take it from me or SAVE Dade. You just call. He knows that. But he just keeps repeating the same thing. 'The sky is falling, the sky is falling.' Come on. There's not havoc in the streets. Gay people aren't walking around naked. It's silly."
Another of Armesto's concepts is that the gay-rights amendment has caused some kind of reverse discrimination against people and organizations who oppose it. When asked to cite examples, the only concrete one he offers relates to the Boy Scouts. Armesto is a leader of Pack 575 at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, where he practices a form of scouting fused with Catholicism. "You are in my prayers," he posted in a note to the contributors to a "Catholic Scouting" Website last year. "Happy Scouting, Pray the Holy Rosary, Defend the Faith, and Be Prepared. Saint George, Patron Saint of Scouting, Pray for Us!"
It was the Boy Scouts, however, that adopted a policy that discriminates against homosexuals by prohibiting openly gay members from its ranks. Yet Armesto submits that the Scouts are the victim. "It [the ordinance] is being used to discriminate against institutions such as the Boy Scouts of America, who have decided that they're not going to allow avowed homosexuals to work as scoutmasters and leaders," Armesto charges. "We need to get rid of it because it establishes special privileges on the basis of sexual conduct, because it is used against institutions such as the Scouts that do not accept avowed homosexualists in their ranks, and because the promoters of this highly divisive amendment which is tearing our community apart are using the amendment to quash any criticism of any type of sexual conduct as a result of this amendment and then claiming that it's discrimination."
Armesto's understanding of constitutional law is flawed, according to SAVE Dade executive director and campaign manager Timothy Higdon. "The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that laws like this do not apply to the Boy Scouts," he notes. "As a private club the Boy Scouts are allowed to discriminate against whomever they want."
Mursuli adds: "It goes back to credible arguments. What are we talking about here? If everybody were to pull up the ordinance and read what the ordinance says there's no mention in there whatsoever about how it affects funding of any organization or anything of the sort. It's ludicrous."
Finally, Armesto rests his case on the fact that the founding fathers did not write about homosexuals per se, nor did the Congressional representatives who drafted civil-rights legislation. "Sexual conduct, sexual orientation, and sexual preferences are not a constitutional right under the United States Constitution, nor are they a civil right under the laws of the United States," Armesto declares. Therefore the Miami-Dade ordinance gives homosexuals "special privileges" that other folks don't have. What kind of privileges? "The privilege," he replies, "of being protected from being fired from your job because you go in and you say that you are of a specific or a certain sexual conduct, because you practice a certain type of sex."
Wrong again, Higdon says. "What our campaign wants is that the same protection that is afforded to other citizens remain for gays and lesbians. Why would we as a community target one group of citizens and exclude them from protection before the law?"
It's not just SAVE Dade that has a problem with Armesto's reasoning. On April 13 the Miami-Dade Democratic Party's executive committee censured Armesto for promoting anti-gay views. Committee member Paula Xanthopoulou issued a statement describing his Take Back activities as "out-of-sync efforts to promote discrimination and divide our community."
Then there was the April 16 cocktail reception at Monty's, the Coconut Grove restaurant co-owned by Mayor Diaz. The soiree was the final act of a one-day conference hosted by People for the American Way to celebrate free speech in Miami-Dade County. Jorge Mursuli had invited Armesto to symbolize that the First Amendment was more important than political disagreements. The occasionally foul-mouthed scout leader sat at the front table with three other people as Mursuli marveled that "just about every corner of the community is here." Diaz was also in the crowd, as was Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade State Attorney.
A few weeks earlier, Armesto had refused to provide her office with handwriting samples in connection with the criminal investigation of Take Back's petition drive. He charged that Fernandez Rundle was biased because she had received SAVE Dade's endorsement and a $500 check from the group in her race against Al Milian in 2000. (In late April Gov. Jeb Bush saw merit in Armesto's claim and moved the case to the Polk County state attorney.)
But everyone was on good behavior at Monty's. None of the speakers mentioned the referendum issue, although with Armesto's presence one couldn't help but think about it when pollster Sergio Bendixen announced his latest findings that tolerance was on the rise in Miami-Dade. "People are no longer afraid to speak their minds about controversial issues," Bendixen announced. "All of the arrows are pointed in the right direction." He noted that the Elian affair, in which many exiles who favored the boy's return to his father could not speak openly to those who opposed it, marked a turning point.