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Florida marriage amendment wins 62 percent support

Florida Baptists credited for role in measure’s passage


Photoby James A. Smith Sr.

John Stemberger, chairman of Yes2Marriage.org, participates in an Webcast with Focus on Family while supporters celebrate passage of the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment.

ORLANDO (FBW) – After a four-year effort and overcoming numerous obstacles, supporters of traditional marriage were able to convince 62 percent of Floridians to amend their state constitution with a measure upholding the traditional definition of marriage.

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Floridians joined citizens in Arizona and California who also amended their respective state constitutions to protect traditional marriage, bringing to 30 the total number of states that have passed marriage amendments since 2004 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court legalized “gay marriage.”

With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment was adopted by a super-majority, exceeding the 60 percent threshold required to amend the Florida constitution and eclipsing public opinion polls that never showed the measure getting any more than 59 percent support.

“Once again the people of Florida have spoken,” said John Stemberger, chairman of Yes2Marriage.org. “They have voted for the common sense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Photo by James A. Smith Sr.

Clayton Cloer (left) and Sen. Daniel Webster check vote counts for Amendment 2 during a Nov. 4 election party at First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando. Cloer is senior pastor and Webster is a longtime member of the church.

Gathering election night at Orlando’s First Baptist Church of Central Florida, several hundred supporters of Amendment 2 watched cable news network election results, while carefully monitoring the votes on the marriage amendment coming in from across the state.

By the time it was safe to declare victory at around 11 p.m., about two dozen supporters sang the Fanny Crosby hymn, “To God be the Glory,” and closed with a time of prayer led by Clayton Cloer, pastor of First Baptist Central Florida and leader of the effort to rally pastors to support the marriage amendment.

The measure 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 thereof shall be valid or recognized.”

Approximately 4.6 million voters supported Amendment 2, while about 2.8 million opposed it. Only in Monroe County – the Florida Keys, known as a homosexual-friendly area of the state – did a majority of voters reject the marriage amendment.

Sen. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, told Florida Baptist Witness the marriage amendment effort was “one of the best grassroots campaigns that has ever been run in the state of Florida. Outspent 3-1, and yet the citizens spoke. It wasn’t one judge as it was in California, Connecticut and Massachusetts in a 4-3 decision, taking down the right of citizens to define marriage as one man and one woman.”

The outgoing majority leader in the Florida Senate, added, “I just think that this is again a tribute to the fact that truth prevails.”

Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and president of Florida Family Policy Council, told the Witness his coalition overcame “unbelievable” opposition to pass the marriage amendment, including its inability to get the measure on the 2006 ballot, the 2006 change requiring 60 percent approval to amend the state constitution, and problems with the handling of petitions in Miami-Dade County resulting in a frantic, last-minute effort in January to gather additional petitions in order to qualify the measure for the 2008 ballot.

The opponents’ “campaign was just filled with fraud and deception. Our opponents tried to scare and prey upon Florida’s most vulnerable and precious citizens, our seniors,” Stemberger said.

Even with Florida contributing to Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential victory, the president-elect’s opposition to Amendment 2 – widely promoted by opponents of the marriage amendment – could not turn back the tide of Floridians supporting the measure.

“It was the most important issue on the ballot in Florida, by far,” Webster said in response to a question about the contrast with Obama’s Florida win.

Mat Staver, founder of Orlando-based Liberty Counsel and author of Amendment 2, told the Witness: “There’s no question that marriage is beyond partisan, it’s not tied to politics, geography or personalities. It transcends political parties, geography and time. And it’s supported obviously by a wide margin of people. I think it’s very clearly indicated with half of the people of Florida voting for Obama and half for McCain, but a super-majority votes for marriage.”

Bill Bunkley, legislative consultant for the Florida Baptist Convention, told the Witness, “In a night of dramatic election results that some would interpret as a mandate to take the country to the left, it is an overwhelming fact that God’s definition of marriage prevailed here in Florida.”

Staver warned that Obama’s desire to repeal the federal Defense of Marriage Act must be vigorously opposed so as to not undo the state marriage amendments.

“The federal DOMA is the ban that has held back the floodwaters of same-sex marriage from overflowing from Massachusetts to the other 49 states,” he said.

The Florida vote brings to a close a campaign to protect marriage begun when the Florida Baptist State Convention adopted a resolution in 2004 urging the state to address the matter in the state constitution, triggering a chain of events that ultimately resulted in the citizens’ initiative that put the issue on the 2008 ballot. As at the beginning, Florida Baptists were credited as playing a critical role in passage of the marriage amendment.

“There’s no question in my mind as the organizer that without Florida Baptist churches this would not have happened. Period,” Stemberger said.

Webster, a member of First Baptist Church of Central Florida, acknowledged that while many other denominations and organizations were vital to the success, Florida Baptists played a “huge role in passing this amendment.”

Bunkley said Florida Baptists “can be proud of the role they played” in passage of Amendment 2.

Cloer credited John Sullivan, executive director-treasurer of the Florida Baptist Convention, and other state convention entities for financial support that “made the difference” in the election, and the “tremendous help” of the Florida Baptist Witness in communicating to pastors the importance of the marriage amendment.

Cloer said “special thanks” were due to Tom Messer, pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Jacksonville, an independent Baptist congregation. “No one did more than Tom Messer did in this campaign,” he said.

“I’m just overwhelmingly grateful because so many people gathered around us to help us in the closing days of the campaign when 60 days ago when we started this I couldn’t get any traction. … The pastors took this cause on and championed it in their communities and in their counties in an incredible way. Nothing parallels this in the history of the state of Florida as a grassroots movement.”