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

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Marriage amendment needs your support - now!


The next three months may very well determine whether or not Floridians will have the opportunity to vote to protect marriage in the state constitution during next year’s election. My question to Florida Baptists is simple: what are you prepared to do to make sure we can vote on this critical issue in 2006?

In a very real sense, Florida Baptists are responsible for the fact that the proposed Florida Marriage Protection Amendment came into existence. It’s also true that unless Florida Baptists put feet to their pronouncements, this vital matter will never get on the ballot.

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Last November at the annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention, Florida Baptists enthusiastically endorsed a call for a state constitutional amendment to protect marriage.

Offered by Lakeland pastor Jay Dennis, the motion said, “I move that in this historical 150th anniversary meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention, that we lovingly, yet with passion and conviction, lead the way and go on record as supporting a statewide constitutional marriage amendment that defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and is the God-ordained building block of the family and bedrock of civil society. We are calling upon our legislators and the citizens of the State of Florida to begin the process of such a constitutional amendment.” After unanimously affirming the motion, Florida Baptists thunderously applauded the announcement that the measure passed.

A broad-based coalition of religious and pro-family leaders, including the Florida Baptist Convention, have put many long and difficult hours into the drafting of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment and have painstakingly addressed tedious details of a citizen initiative effort. It’s no small task – leaders estimate that it will take 800,000 petitions to ensure that they get the 611,009 necessary to put the matter on the 2006 ballot.

In August, coalition leaders announced they had reached the critical 10 percent threshold necessary to trigger the mandatory review of the amendment by the Florida Supreme Court. (For more on this, see “Leaders announce ‘milestone’ for amendment,” Aug. 25, 2005.) According to the Florida Secretary of State Division of Elections Web site, as of Oct. 17, only 98,447 petitions have been collected, leaving more than 500,000 additional valid petitions needed to put the matter on the ballot.

Coalition leaders want to have well over the 611,000 required petitions in hand at the end of the year in order to be sure that enough valid petitions to certify the amendment for the November 2006 general election ballot. Although coalition leaders will not want to say so publicly, there is plenty of reason to fear that with all the distractions of the fall, including the upcoming holiday season, the effort – at least for this election year – may very well fail.

Speculation of possible failure is already the subject of discussion among Florida’s political observers. Tallahassee Democrat writer Bill Cotterell authored a Sept. 1 column arguing that the amendment “isn’t a sure thing.”

What an irony – and embarrassment – it would be if Florida is the first state to fail to put a marriage amendment in its state constitution after 13 out of 13 did last fall, and a total of 18 states have done so. Texas will vote on an amendment in November and eight other states may consider amendments in 2006. Every state that has proposed an amendment has successfully added similar language to its constitution. Will the Sunshine State be the first to fail?

The issue at stake is no minor, side matter. The definition of marriage is at the very core of civilization. Permitting “gay marriage” in our state will undermine marriage, harm children and advance a key element of the homosexual agenda – and speed the adoption of other parts of that dangerous agenda. (For more on why to oppose “gay marriage,” see my April 29, 2004, editorial, “Ten reasons to oppose ‘gay marriage.’”)

Although Florida has a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in its statutes defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, it’s simply a matter of time before a judge declares that law unconstitutional – and there is a pending lawsuit in Monroe County against the state’s DOMA statute. Only an amendment to the state constitution will prevent a re-definition of marriage in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Baptist Convention has hired Bill Bunkley to assist with educational efforts on the marriage amendment in our churches. Bunkley, many will no doubt recognize, is Florida Baptists’ consultant during the legislative session. He is a uniquely qualified advocate who can do much to help galvanize Florida Baptists in this effort. Look for more coverage in these pages on his efforts in the coming weeks.

Florida Baptists operate about 2,500 congregations across the state – and every single one of them ought to be at the forefront of getting a large percentage of the necessary petitions. Do the math: if every congregation would produce just 10 petitions that would amount to more than 25,000; if every congregation would produce just 100 petitions more than 250,000 signatures would be secured. Some congregations cannot do 100 – and others can do multiples of 100.

It’s not unreasonable to my mind that Florida Baptists should easily account for a quarter of a million petitions so that Florida voters can have the last word on the proper definition of marriage.

Only registered voters may submit valid petitions, which are available on our Web site: www.FloridaBaptistWitness.com/marriagepetition.pdf, as well as the coalition Web site, www.Florida4Marriage.org, where further information about this effort is available. Note carefully the instructions for participation in the initiative process. These instructions must be observed strictly to ensure success. If you’re not registered to vote – do so immediately and after you have received your voter registration card, then sign your petition. Churches organizing petition campaigns, should run a voter registration effort concurrently with the petition effort – and then follow-up with those newly registered voters.

Florida must join the 18 other states that have enshrined in their constitutions the fundamental truth that marriage is reserved for one man and one woman. Florida Baptists, what are you going to do to ensure that the Sunshine State does the same?