‘Milestone’ reached in Florida marriage amendment petition drive
Coalition leaders call for ‘expedited’ high court review
By JAMES A. SMITH SR.
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At news conferences in Orlando, Tallahassee and Miami, spokespersons of the Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage said the Florida Division of Elections has certified 60,642 petitions as of Aug. 19, with 61,113 needed to reach the 10 percent threshold required to trigger review by the Supreme Court. In addition to the approval of the language by the state’s high court, the coalition must collect a total of 611,009 petitions to put the measure before voters next November.
“We’re calling upon all those officials necessary to process this and to do it in an expedited manner,” John Stemberger said at the Orlando event. Stemberger, chairman of the coalition, is president of the Florida Family Policy Council.
Although the attorney general has 30 days to notify the Supreme Court and the high court must conclude its required review of the amendment by April, Stemberger said both actions could be done much sooner.
Coalition leaders said all 611,009 petitions must be collected by the end of 2005 in order for the amendment to appear on the November 2006 ballot.
“If there was ever a time for direct democracy, this is it,” Stemberger said. “This is an issue for the people and not for the courts to decide. We hope the Florida Supreme Court will let people decide the marriage issue.”
Also speaking at the Orlando news conference was Mathew Staver, president of Liberty Counsel, an Orlando-based public interest law firm, and Randy Thomas, membership director of Exodus International, an organization which assists persons who desire to leave the homosexual lifestyle.
Staver’s organization wrote the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, which 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.”
Staver, who has litigated many “gay marriage” cases across the United States, warned, “We should not allow judges simply by a stroke of their pen in the silence of their chambers to undermine the historic institution of marriage as one man and one woman. … Marriage is not a club you join; it’s an institution that undergirds society. This is why the people in Florida need to vote on this.”
In addition to prohibiting “gay marriage,” Staver noted the proposed state constitutional amendment would also prevent bigamy “or any other kind of marriage other than what we have historically and universally recognized as the foundation of society and that is one man and one woman.”
As evidence for the need for a state constitutional amendment, Staver cited an active lawsuit in Monroe County challenging the constitutionality under the state constitution of Florida’s Defense of Marriage Act, drafted by Staver in 1996 and adopted overwhelmingly by the Legislature in 1997.
The lawsuit has “fueled” and “underscored” the coalition’s strategy to advance a state constitutional amendment, Staver said.
“Time is of the essence,” he added, arguing “at any moment” a judge could rule against traditional marriage, making an amendment necessary.
Thomas, a former homosexual, said proponents of traditional marriage forced him consider the legitimacy of homosexuality and “gay marriage,” which led to his departure from the homosexual lifestyle.
“I was not happy with the conservatives back in the 80’s, but what they did was they challenged me to dialogue,” he said.
Thomas affirmed the coalition’s repudiation of bigotry against homosexuals.
“We support a person’s right to self-determination. But we don’t want one person’s determination to affect all of us,” he added.
The Florida Baptist State Convention galvanized the effort to affirm traditional marriage in the Sunshine State 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.”
Subsequently, Florida Baptists’ State Board of Missions has endorsed the marriage amendment effort. Further action on the amendment is expected at the September meeting of the State Board.
The Florida Coalition to Protect Marriage (www.Florida4Marriage.org) and the petition drive for the state constitutional amendment were launched at a Valentine’s Day news conference in Orlando.
“This issue really is all about children. Same-sex marriage subjects children to a vast, untested and risky social experiment,” Stemberger said, noting the “disaster” of no-fault divorce in America.
“We just can’t throw timeless institutions to the wind without asking, what’s the impact on children? A civilized, loving society always comes to the aid of and to the rescue and to the support of motherless and fatherless homes. But a loving and a civilized society, I would submit to you, never, ever intentionally creates inherently motherless, inherently fatherless homes as a matter of law and public policy.”
Tom Gallagher, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer and Republican candidate for governor in 2006, issued a statement Aug. 19 praising the marriage amendment.
“I’m extremely pleased to learn that Floridians are one step closer toward protecting traditional marriage between a man and a woman in our state,” Gallagher said.
“Unfortunately, Democrats, left-wing special interest groups and activist judges around the country are threatening to undermine the sanctity of marriage in Florida. Those of us who believe in defending Florida’s values are left with no choice but to seek the preservation of marriage in Florida through amending the constitution.”
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