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Marriage petition needs half million signatures

Booth promoting amendment to protect marriage at FBSC


JACKSONVILLE (FBC)–A year after messengers attending the Florida Baptist State Convention called for a state constitutional amendment to protect traditional marriage, a coalition created to gain its passage is urging churches and individuals to become more aggressive in securing signed petitions.

Organizers of “Florida4Marriage.org” need 611,009 petition signatures by Feb. 1 to place the measure on the November 2006 ballot. Yet as of Nov. 7 only 108,669 signatures had been certified by the Florida Division of Elections, making another half million signed petitions needed in less than three months time.

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Added to the urgency is the requirement that county supervisors of elections must certify ballot signatures, which involves additional processing time. The coalition has set Dec. 31, 2005 as an internal deadline to collect the needed petitions.

The ballot initiative faces another hurdle as the state Supreme Court must approve the amendment’s language before it can qualify for the ballot. Without that approval, the collection of signatures will be for naught. At this point, the state’s highest court has not even set a date to hear arguments for and against the proposal. Once a hearing date is set, a two weeks notice is required before the hearing can be held.

The initiative states: “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 shall be valid or recognized.”

“We would have hoped to have heard from the Florida Supreme Court on the arguments for language before now,” said Bill Bunkley, Florida Baptists’ legislative consultant who has been asked to oversee the Convention’s progress in this effort. “I am disappointed we have to move forward without knowing if the language had been validated or invalidated.”

Without the court’s approval of the ballot language, Bunkley noted, many individuals and groups are not as willing to financially support or become involved in the passage of the proposed amendment.

So it is necessary for churches to overcome a possible lethargy and mount a grassroots effort in support of the marriage amendment, said Bunkley. “Time is of the essence.” John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, has contacted Florida Baptists’ largest congregations to enlist their help in securing signatures of registered voters. “Our storms have delayed the effort,” he said. “Yet this is an urgent matter that I hope Florida Baptists will embrace wholeheartedly.”

Bunkley has been speaking at churches and associational meetings, trying to galvanize leaders to sponsor petition drives. “I’m ready to crisscross the state or whatever we need to do to secure those petitions,” he said.

He is asking individual Florida Baptists to become “defenders of marriage” by encouraging ten family members, church friends or coworkers who have not signed the Florida4Marriage petition to do so. Then he suggests they secure a commitment from these initial ten persons to ask and enlist another ten persons to do the same.

“I believe we have a lot of Christian citizens who have a stake in getting this amendment passed,” Bunkely said. “If each of these core constituents would spend $7 to photocopy 100 petitions and follow through by urging their friends to do the same, this grassroots effort would succeed.”

Bunkley recommends that Florida Baptists distribute the petitions on the soccer field, Little League baseball games, and at places where families gather. “We have to step up the best we can.”

Florida Baptists have been involved from the beginning to qualify the amendment for the 2006 election ballot. Immediately after the November 2004 election, Jay Dennis, pastor of the First Baptist Church at the Mall in Lakeland and past state convention president, drafted a resolution proposing the amendment at the annual meeting of the Florida Baptist State Convention meeting in Jacksonville.

Messengers at the 150th anniversary meeting unanimously adopted the resolution.

The State Board of Missions unanimously approved an action plan to work with other pro-family groups in the state to ensure its passage, allocating $25,000 to the effort and assigning Bunkley to the task.

The board also encouraged each association to collect the petitions being secured by their area Baptist churches. The associations would then be able to gage the level of participation in the petition drive by their cooperating churches before turning the completed petitions over to their local supervisor of elections.