Should State Ban Same-Sex Marriage? Some People Say Yes; Others Say a Constitutional Ban Will Affect Heterosexuals, Too

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE - From where John Stemberger sits, the prospects for putting a same-sex marriage ban in the Florida constitution are very bright.

Stemberger is an Orlando attorney leading Florida4Marriage.org, the group working to send voters a proposed constitutional amendment on the subject on the November 2008 ballot.

"There are boxes and boxes of petitions piled as high as the ceiling in the hallway outside my office," said Stemberger, also head of the Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council Inc. "We're definitely going to have way more than we need."

Sometime in the coming weeks, Stemberger said his group intends to submit the petitions - a total of 611,009 signatures are required, but Stemberger estimates he has 750,000. The Florida Supreme Court has already approved the amendment's language.

Launched in February 2005, the proposed amendment "protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized." To pass, it must receive 60 percent of the vote.

The proposal appears to have galvanized an unlikely coalition of opponents. They include the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans, the Florida chapter of the NAACP and the Florida Consumer Action Network, in addition to gay-rights groups such as Equality Florida and First Coast Pride, which represents Jacksonville's gay community.

Their concern: Banning same-sex marriage could cause courts to strip away other rights, such as domestic partnership benefits for heterosexual couples like elderly Floridians who may live together outside of marriage for convenience, economic or security reasons.

Their proof: A decision earlier this year by a Michigan appeals court that Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage, adopted in the November 2004 election, may bar cities from offering health care for same-sex partners of public employees. That has quickly prompted legal battles in other states as well.

ON THE DEFENSIVE

Opponents of the amendment concede that it will make the November 2008 ballot, and have already shifted their attack to an "awareness campaign" highlighting the recent court decisions and the potential legal impact beyond the gay community. …

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