Opponents to an anti-gay marriage amendment to the Florida constitution - which now appears to be headed for the November ballot - announced they intend to wage an all-out war for its defeat.
Jon Kislak, a prominent South Florida businessman and chairman of Florida Red and Blue, a statewide bipartisan committee, said they will form a "truth squad" to tell how much damage the proposal could have on Floridians.
Florida already bans same sex marriage, but the Liberty Council, headquartered in Orlando, says the constitutional amendment is needed to fight potential lawsuits.
The amendment would go even further than one passed in Ohio during the 2004 Presidential election - an issue that helped deliver that state's electoral votes to George Bush and thus, the presidency. The Florida proposal, according to its opponents, would affect not only gay couples but also heterosexual domestic partners, legally recognized in some areas of the state, and would mean insurance programs, hospital visitations and death benefits, and other citizens' rights would be terminated.
For awhile it appeared that there were insufficient signatures to get the ban on the November ballot, but Secretary of State Kurt Browning's office in Tallahassee said that Florida4Marriage, an offshoot of the Liberty Council, met the Feb. 1 deadline and provided the 611,000 names needed for placement on the November ballot along with the presidential election. It was only a week or so ago that the Liberty Council, with a record of supporting anti-gay measures, was told it was 22,000 votes short needed to put the amendment up for vote on Nov. 4. But a last minute concentrated effort apparently got enough signatures for the referendum, which - because it is a constitutional amendment - would need 60 percent approval.
Conservatives celebrated the fact that the amendment might lure Republicans and evangelicals to the polls in November and indicated it would become an issue in the presidential race. The Republican Party, however, said it was not giving financial help to the Liberty Council nor its offshoot, Florida4Marriage.
Opponents immediately said they would wage an all-out campaign to defeat the amendment. "There are still those out there who would like to take away personal liberties," said Stephen Gaskill, spokesperson for Florida Red and Blue. He said that his group is certain "Floridians don't want government this deeply involved in their personal lives."
Chairman Kislak, a widely regarded civic leader, explained that supporters of the "so-called Marriage Protection Amendment" have been collecting signatures for four years and asked that the various Supervisors of Elections take all actions to ensure that every signature certified is valid.
"We are not surprised to learn this amendment will come before voters this year. From the beginning, Florida Red and Blue has been preparing to tell the truth about this amendment and the damage it will do to Floridians," Kislak said.
"That has not changed - we are already busy collecting the resources and building the campaign it will take to defeat this dangerous amendment. We remain confident that voters will reject this amendment once they learn it can take away existing rights and benefits from millions of Floridians. The benefits put at risk by this amendment include the loss of shared health care and pensions and the elimination of hospital visitation rights between unmarried Floridians."
Kislak added, "Floridians feel the state has more important things to do than create another government intrusion into our private lives."
Gaskill noted that the amendment would not only affect gay citizens but also deprive singles and seniors who are in relationships of health benefits, insurance and other entitlements.
John Stemberger, chair of the Liberty Council and a well-known attorney for conservative causes, said his group still has $500,000 to wage a statewide effort and will raise more, despite it being unable to count this time on the State Republican Party to fund its campaign. Since GOP Gov. Charlie Crist -- known as a moderate -- took office, the party has stopped giving the group cash.
The proposal to amend the Florida constitution had made headlines not only in Florida but nationally. Since the 2004 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling legalized -same-sex marriage there, 23 states have added bans joining Nevada, Nebraska and Alaska, which already had such rulings. In 2006, Arizona became the first state to defeat a same sex marriage ban. Several states permit legal unions offering the same rights as marriage. These include California, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Connecticut.
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