Conservative group admit faking anti-gay petition

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Ultra-conservative Cincinnati activists withdrew a petition to place an anti-gay initiative on the ballot in November after acknowledging this week that some of the signatures they submitted were fraudulent and they did not have the required number of supporters.

The initiative, orchestrated by Cincinnati group Equal Rights Not Special Rights, would nullify an addition to the city’s Human Rights Ordinance prohibiting discrimination in employment and housing on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression, if passed by voters.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Phil Burress, chairman of Equal Rights Not Special Rights, said he made the decision after it became obvious that many signatures on the petitions were forgeries.

His group had collected just two signatures more than the minimum 7,654 needed to force the referendum. A hearing was scheduled at the Board of Elections, where more than 1,300 of those signatures were to be challenged as forgeries, or as being improperly altered by paid signature gatherers.

The Cincinnati Post reports that the signatures collected were obvious forgeries including Cuban President Fidel Castro and Cincinnati Reds owner Bob Castellini.

“Our own investigation revealed one person forged some names,” Mr Burress said to the Enquirer. “It was quite obvious. So we immediately said, that’s not right. It’s a shame it went on this long, but we’re sorry the people aren’t going to be permitted to vote in this issue.”

Jennifer Branch, an attorney for Citizens to Restore Fairness, told the Enquirer that the fraud was systematic.

“There were 1,300 reasons why those petitions were not going to be good enough,” Ms Branch said.

Last March, the City Council voted to add homosexuals and transgender people to the city’s human rights ordinance, which protects people from discrimination.

Gay People’s Chronicle, an Ohio alternative newspaper, reported that Mr Burress turned in 1,592 petition forms to on April 14 after collecting signatures for 30 days. Before turning them in, they had the Board of Elections screen some of the forms, which they estimated had more than 14,000 signatures. The sample showed that only about half were valid signatures of Cincinnati registered voters.

“Those attempting to push discrimination can’t honestly get the signatures they need,” said Ralph Neas, president of Equal Rights group People For the American Way. “The writing is on the wall, and the message is that gay and lesbian Americans are full citizens and entitled to the same legal rights as everyone else.”

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