Tiny-but-tranquil Miami Shores isn't often rocked by controversy, but a vote last month that failed to endorse gay marriage has turned neighbor against neighbor.
After the North Dade town's mayor, Herta Holly, and two others killed a resolution in July that would have supported marriage equality, which is bubbling its way through Florida courts, pressure came to bear on the one-story Village Hall on Northeast Second Avenue. Now the long-running Mayor's Ball has been canceled over the brouhaha, and a new vote on a pro-LBGT measure has been scheduled for next week.
The controversy has dominated conversation in town. "This vote against equality does not represent the values and beliefs of our community," read a mailer that landed in most mailboxes this week.
"Marriage is a basic human right," added councilman Jesse Walters, who is gay and in a committed relationship, He sponsored the failed measure, which would have expressed support for gay marriage in a symbolic way.
So across the Shores, which had the fifth highest percentage of LGBT residents in America in 2010, according to the Census, rainbow flags have been showing up in front yards -- and nasty, sometimes homophobic slurs have been exchanged over back fences.
Besides Mayor Holly, Councilmen Jim McCoy and Hunt Davis also voted against the original measure.
The most dramatic effect of the vote is that the age-old tuxedo-and-gown-filled Mayor's Ball was canceled after two volunteers who were chairing the effort, Elizabeth Hitt and Julia Hammond, quit. "When we found out about the vote, we did a lot of soul searching and decided that we just couldn't go along with the whole thing," Hitt says.
Now Hitt and Hammond are co-chairing an alternative. That event will instead be called the Unity Ball and will be held on November 1. Like the Mayor's gala -- which was killed this year because "a lot of the putative sponsors would pull out," HItt said, it will raise money for charity.
The cost of the Unity Ball is high, though -- $175 per person.
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Mayor Holly and the Miami Shores Community Alliance are having a $25 brunch to raise money in lieu of the now canceled Mayor's Ball, Hitt said.
The pressure is likely to have another effect. According to Walters, Holly has drafted a new resolution to support gay marriage that is likely to be introduced at a council meeting this coming Monday.
Holly did not answer the phone number provided for her by the Village Hall, but Walters says he's seen a draft of the measure, which is acceptable. "The original vote seemed really out of touch with the people we represent," Walters says.