October 4, 2007 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 124 Number 235

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Marriage amendment initiative launched at Valentine Day's news conference

Florida Baptists join one-year petition campaign to gather 600,000 signatures


Editor’s note: This story will be updated later today, Monday, Feb. 14.

ORLANDO (FBW) – A broad-based coalition of religious and pro-family organizations – including the Florida Baptist Convention – launched on Valentine’s Day an ambitious citizen initiative to amend Florida’s Constitution defining marriage as “the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

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The coalition – Florida4Marriage.org – must collect more than 600,000 valid signatures from registered voters by February 2006. Before that, however, the coalition needs about 80,000 signatures to send the amendment to the Florida Supreme Court for its required review and approval. Assuming successful evaluation by the Florida high court and enough valid signatures, the amendment will go before Florida voters on the general election ballot in November 2006.

The full text of the proposed constitutional amendment reads: “Inasmuch as marriage is the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife, no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

A copy of the petition is available on the Florida Baptist Witness Web site (www.floridabaptistwitness.com/marriagepetition.pdf).

The Florida Baptist State Convention galvanized the effort to affirm traditional marriage last November in Jacksonville when it enthusiastically and unanimously adopted a motion offered by Lakeland pastor Jay Dennis urging Florida Baptists to “lead the way and go on record as supporting a statewide constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and is the God-ordained building block of the family and the bedrock of civil society.”

Dennis, pastor of First Baptist Church at the Mall and FBSC president 2000-2001, called on legislators and citizens of the state “to begin the process of such a constitutional amendment.”

Among the organizations participating in the coalition and/or backing the call for a constitutional amendment include: the Florida Baptist Convention, Florida Christian Coalition, Liberty Counsel, and Florida Family Action. Also issuing a statement of support February 14 was the Florida Catholic Conference.

Orlando attorney John Stemberger, head of Florida Family Focus, is chairman of the political action committee formed to pass the constitutional amendment. The petition was formally filed Feb. 9 with the Florida Elections Division.

Representing the Florida Baptist Convention at the Feb. 14 news conference in Orlando was the Convention’s Legislative Consultant, Bill Bunkley, who has participated in the coalition’s strategy sessions leading to the citizen initiative’s launch.

In January, Florida Baptists’ State Board of Missions unanimously approved involvement in the coalition and asked Florida Baptist Convention staff to develop an education and awareness campaign among Florida Baptists to encourage their participation in the initiative effort. An update on Convention plans is expected at the next meeting of the State Board in May.

Gov. Jeb Bush and other state political leaders have expressed skepticism about the need for a constitutional amendment, arguing that the state’s 1997 Defense of Marriage Act already provides a safeguard against efforts to advance “gay marriage.”

In response to the FBSC action in November, Bush said, “If there was a threat that gay marriage would be accepted in our state, then I might be supportive of it. I’m not sure it’s necessary to do this in a pre-emptive fashion. I think we’re safe.”

Last November 11 out of 11 states adopted various versions of constitutional bans on “gay marriage.” To date, 13 states have adopted amendments protecting traditional marriage.