Anti-Gay Marriage Petition Falls 155,000 Signatures Shy; A Coalition Wanted to Get a Constitutional Ban on the November Ballot

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Forces working for and against a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in Florida aren't through fighting despite supporters' failure to get the measure onto the November ballot.

The coalition of state religious groups, collectively known as Florida4Marriage.Org, fell nearly 155,000 certified signatures short of the 611,009 needed by 5 p.m. Wednesday to place the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment before voters this year.

The Jacksonville-based Florida Baptist Convention and the Florida Catholic Conference in Tallahassee were among the religious organizations that participated in the effort.

Undeterred, the group's leaders on Thursday pledged to continue their signature-collecting campaign to place the amendment, which defines marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman, onto the ballot in 2008.

"We want to launch a '155,000 signatures in 55 days campaign' and just complete this thing," said John Stemberger, an Orlando lawyer and chairman of Florida4Marriage.Org. Signatures already collected in the effort are valid for four years, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Elections said.

Opponents welcomed news of the signature shortfall, calling it a victory for "fair-minded Floridians" opposed to discrimination but adding they aren't letting down their guard.

"Our message is that the fight's not over," said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, a statewide gay-rights group participating in an anti-amendment coalition called Fairness for All Families.

Smith said the coalition will have a series of meetings across the state this month to warn Floridians of the continuing campaign, which she said threatens domestic partnership benefits for unmarried gay and straight couples alike.

"It's hard to celebrate when this kind of organized attack on your families is happening in your state," Smith said.

Stemberger and others who worked for the proposal disputed opponents' claims that the signature shortfall represents voter disapproval. …


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